Today’s world is bursting with information – including fake news. We have so much right at our fingertips. But how much of what’s out there is actually credible? In an effort to combat the rise in misinformation, Google recently developed an internet initiative called Be Internet Awesome to help kids be “safe, confident explorers of the online world.”
The initiative’s “Don’t Fall for Fake” curriculum teaches children how to spot fake information (and any potential scams that may be associated with false info). This is a huge resource considering that kids are 50 times more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults—there’s a clear need to teach young internet users to understand what’s real and what’s fake online.
If you’re a parent, educator, or church leader responsible for keeping kids safe on the internet, here are seven ways you can teach them to separate fact from fiction by identifying fake news.
7 Ways to Identify Fake News
1. Consider the Source
Teach children to check the news source. Is it a reputable site or someone trying to replicate a real URL? Some sites are very authoritative-looking fakes of actual news sources. Be aware of unusual domain names, such as those that end in “.com.co.” They may appear legitimate but could give false information.
Similarly, checking the “About Us” page on websites can help kids understand the publication and its mission. Some sites may be satirical publications or claim to have fictitious information.
2. Look at the Author
The author is also a clue as to whether an article or page is authentic or fake news. If the individual hasn’t published any other articles, the site is not well known, or the information seems outlandish, then it’s likely not reliable. Likewise, the author should have professional contact information, not a personal email (like Gmail or Hotmail), in their bio.
Older kids can also be taught to think critically about the author and their potential biases. Encourage kids to ask questions like “What incentive would this author have to share this information?” to better understand where the information might come from.
3. Check the Date
Teach kids to make sure stories are not being taken out of context; some social sites make it easy to repost an article from years ago to make it appear relevant. Kids should learn how to check publication times to decide whether the topic is current or just an old story being recycled.
4. Read the Article, Not Just the Headline
Headlines are often appealing and meant to grab the reader’s attention. However, some headlines can be misleading. Encourage kids to read the full article to see if the headline means what it says or was simply a hook. In other words, don’t judge the news by the title!
For example, a headline that reads “Man Hugs Lion in the Wild on Safari Trip” is very intriguing—but likely fake news. Some articles are clickbait stories that receive revenue based off the amount of traction or activity they receive, and kids should be careful not to fall prey to enticing headlines that are actually false.
5. Pay Attention to Quality. Bad Grammar = Fake News
Spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors may be a sign that an article is not from a trustworthy source and is likely fake news. Credible sites have high standards for quality and require lots of proofreading. Similarly, authentic news articles will link to other quality news sources.
6. Find What Else Is Being Said About the Topic
Look to other articles concerning the topic. If no other news sources are reporting on the issue, then it’s likely fake news. If there are other articles on the matter, help kids sift through the information to see where differences lie.
Unfortunately, false information can spread, meaning other sources could unknowingly report irrelevant or incorrect information. Fact-checking websites like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and PolitiFact.com are all good sources that kids can rely on to verify a piece of information they’re unsure about.
7. Talk with Your Children About Fake News
Talk with your children regularly about being safe and smart online, and make sure they know the door is always open to ask any questions they might have. Start conversations about stories you see on social media or photoshopped images on the cover of a magazine. Help kids use secure, reputable sites and be wary of social media accounts or websites that give misleading, inappropriate, or false information—some of which may appear enticing.
While you can’t always be present to make sure kids stay safe online, you can set them up for success by teaching them how to spot fake news and any unreliable or inappropriate sites. Kids can “Be Internet Awesome” with your help and guidance.
How have you helped your kids be smart online and spot fake news?
BONUS: On August 16, 2019, Instagram announced they’ll let you flag posts for false content.
Related Post: How to Report Fake News on Instagram
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Alice is an experienced freelance writer who covers all things tech. She has a passion for understanding how technology is changing the human experience and communicating this societal transformation.