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Help Kids Spot Fake News

You can help them distinguish between trustworthy news sources and bogus clickbait.



While technology provides us with 24/7 information, it also allows anyone with an internet connection and a keyboard to become a publisher. As a result, truth can seem like it’s never been more elusive. As we enter a presidential-election year, it may become particularly challenging to sort out accurate information from the flood of posts that inundate news feeds.

How can parents help?

While parents are the primary source of information when children are young, as they get older they increasingly turn to peers and social media. According to a Common Sense Media study, YouTube and Facebook are the top news sources for tweens and teens.

Schools might provide guidelines on how to find valid sources, but the task is overwhelming. As Sherri Hope Culver, director of the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple University, points out, “It is hard to make a blanket rule.”

Start young

Age is a big factor when teaching media literacy. “Children under 10 have less ability to discern misrepresentations,” she says. “They need more coaching
— someone to walk them through.” In middle school and high school, “students are asked to apply critical thinking skills all the time. Understanding media requires the same critical thinking skills as an English or a math class or even when deciding where you’re going to dinner tomorrow.”

Parents should encourage children to ask questions and promote critical-thinking skills at an early age by asking: “What are you reading? Why are you reading that? Who wrote that? What’s interesting about it?"

Culver likens teaching kids about media to teaching them about healthy nutrition. Parents talk to their kids about what they should be eating from an early age; they should do the same with media. Give little bits of advice when they are young, Culver says, so “we are less likely to get into a situation where we are setting up punitive rules with teens.”

Questions teens can ask

Kids should ask: “How does the information get there? Is there an editorial board? Is there an editor? Is there any method of fact checking? The fact that someone else is looking at and evaluating information is important." Encourage teens to “do a little pre-investigative work, to create a short list of sources with strong editorial oversight.” Culver says that asking just a few questions can “weed out 90 to 95 percent of misleading misinformation and propaganda out there.”

Understand the difference between a blog and a news source. You cannot always rely on the writer being objective. Many professional writers also have a website and may write a blog that has no editorial oversight. You cannot put the same value on both sources, even when written by the same person.

Students used to be taught to look for misspellings and photos without attribution. But Culver notes that it’s so easy to make websites that look professional that it can be difficult to tell what is true and what is not. According to a 2016 Stanford study, highly polished websites even fooled college students asked to determine whether a source was credible.

“Look for information that can be confirmed,” she says. Are other sources reporting the story? Is the writer known for a particular point of view? Is there a byline? A lack of byline or one that simply reads “staff ” should be a red flag.

Kimberly Yavorski is a freelance writer from Ambler, PA. 

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