Fake news is dangerous because the decisions that we make in our lives are based on information that we have, and if that information is flawed, it means that we’re not making the best decision for our well-being and those around us.

For example, if you believe the Earth is flat, you might not trust transportation. If you believe that all vaccines are harmful, you may forgo getting a vaccine that could benefit your health.

That’s why it’s crucial parents talk about the issue with their children and help them understand what is real and what is fake when it comes to their online world. It’s all about teaching digital literacy and critical thinking skills so they can develop the tools to decide for themselves.

Where is the information coming from?

Firstly, parents should speak to their children about where they are getting information from. Even if it’s on reputable websites, it should be talked about so they can understand the difference between facts and opinions and where to source these online. It’s about helping them develop the critical thinking skills that will allow them to judge for themselves what’s real versus what’s fake.

It’s fundamental to understand that sometimes something that is inaccurate can still be amplified and become ubiquitous. Even if a story has been covered all over the media, it can still be fake. It’s not a new thing. You can look back through history books and see where this has happened on a grand scale through scurrilous rumour and propaganda. Don’t just accept something as fact because lots of people are talking about it – especially social media.

It’s really important to get children to foster discussion. One of the best ways that we can expose fake news is to ask questions, whether it’s in school or over the dinner table to get them to look at evidence to substantiate their points while you do the same.

It’s vital parents are on top of this by talking to their children openly, using age-appropriate tools to protect them, and checking in on their digital wellbeing regularly.

And if they do spot it, make sure they know how to report it to stop it from spreading further and affecting other people. Social media sites have their own guidelines and easy steps to report content if you believe it is fake.

How to bring up fake news with your kids:

Talk about something that’s happened in recent history – such as those who believe the Earth is flat. Explain that of course, everyone should be able to air their opinions and ideas, but that there is a difference between ‘beliefs’ which are personal, and knowledge which is agreed upon by society and accepted only after it has been scrutinized by the scientific method and experts in particular fields. As such if they are unsure about something they can look at sources that aren’t based on personal beliefs but rather specialists and experts that have spent years studying a particular field- as opposed to people that are just perpetuating an idea.”

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What to do if your child has believed a fake news story:

“Have a discussion around how to tell if something is fake or real. Talk to them about how the information they see online is created so they have a better understanding of the intentions behind it. Encourage them to read beyond the headline and if they do spot something, not to share it but to help set the record straight. Share quick and easy ways to check the reliability such as doing a search to double-check who the author is and how credible they are.”

How to teach them to own up if they have accidentally shared misinformation:

Encourage them to admit ‘I’ve got this one wrong’. There’s nothing more noteworthy and brave and a true sign of character to admit this, and it is a wonderful discussion to have with your children. Teach them that they will be more respected for it. Explain they should put it right as it could be annoying or harmful to someone else who sees it. You can help them to post out the messages if it’s the first time.”

How to spot a fake profile?

“Fake social media posts and accounts help fake news to go viral. Fortunately, there are a few simple checks you can teach your children such as looking for a blue tick on Twitter and Instagram profiles, or a verified badge on Facebook or YouTube channels. Check images shared through a reverse image search, or look at the account names – does it have loads of numbers? This may suggest it was created by a bot.”

Look out for the signs of cyber scamming:

“Talk to them about the different types of cyber scamming from phishing to fake health product and remedies. Teach them to never open emails unless it’s from a trusted sender, especially attachments. Do not click on links in games, videos or sites sent in a message or text – it could be a fake or ‘skin’. Instead, search for the original genuine website URL and check it out.”

Can you spot the fake headlines from Internet Matters ‘Find the Fake’ quiz? Spot which headline is real in each question:

Q1.

  • Man Uses Live Alligator For His Baby’s Gender-Reveal Party
  • Teen influencer received millions of roses from a secret admirer
  • Driver Tries To Pass Homer Simpson Licence Off As Real To Police

Q2.

  • Researchers claim that 50% of UK coastal counties will be underwater by 2060 as a result of climate change
  • Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump to be US President
  • Special tech saving rhinos from poachers

Q3.

  • You aren’t ready for this football-playing moose
  • A child sells parents £35,000 diamond jewellery online to buy gaming credits on a mobile video game
  • 101-year-old breaks the internet by sharing a stunning selfie

Article by Linda Papadopoulos, Internet Matters Ambassador 

Head to internetmatters.org to take the full ‘Find the Fake’ quiz to help learn more about fake news and start a conversation with your kids.

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