How to help children identify fake news?

Knowing how to identify false news is one of the new skills that children must develop.

Los niños aprenden a identificar noticias falsas en Internet

Boys and girls should learn how to identify fake news.

Recently Facebook, the most important social network in the world, removed 610 profiles, 156 groups, 89 pages and 72 Instagram profiles. The reason? The profiles did not belong to real people, their profile photos were created by artificial intelligence and their behavior was modulated by international organizations that spread potentially harmful fake information to more than 55 million users.

False information, in recent years catalogued as fake news, represents one of the main concerns to giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as false news alone can distort our world view and affect our decisions. 

That’s why it’s important that from an early age, girls and boys know how to differentiate between real and false information, learn how to identify them, besides helping them in their research tasks, it will also help them to raise awareness about the use and consequences of online activities. 

Here are some tips on how to teach them to do it.

Start by identifying the types of false content

Fake news. News that lacks veracity and is created to exalt some emotion or create conversation. For example, the death of a famous person, the resignation of someone or non-credible technological discoveries.

Fake user-generated content. Information that is found on sites created by a community of users that may have incorrect or inaccurate data. For example, unverified information on Wikipedia.

Unbiased news sources. It is especially important to know when some reliable sources of information have certain biases in how they handle their information according to their editorial purpose. Some sources tend to report real information, but “dress up” their stories with unnecessary coloring.

Blogs and vlogs. User-generated YouTube sites and channels that propagate personal opinions and do not function as sources of truthful information.

How to identify false news?

If a news item or piece of information that appeared on the Internet shows facts that no other source of information has, and especially if the source of the information does not explain how it was obtained, then it may be false information. You can recognize them by making the following reflections:

Be skeptical. Make a habit of doubting information and checking before you share.

First ask yourself:

Who presents the information? Check the news and the sources they cite, or if they cite sources in the first place.

How do they know about it? What makes the source of the news a reliable source? Do you know or have you heard of it?

Do they have a bias? Does the information only present one side of the debate, or does it try to benefit or harm someone or something?

Has this news been reported on reliable sites? See if the news has been reported by other reliable media. Be careful, often false news is shared virally and appears on several sites. In that case, wait and see how the facts unfold; the truthfulness of a false story doesn’t last long.

Listen to your instincts. You find that unbelievable? Then it’s better to check it out.

Are sources cited? If the news does, it’s best to go directly to the sources.

Be careful of your own inclinations. Sometimes we tend to believe information that reinforces our own beliefs, even if it is not true.

What to teach the children?

The process of learning to identify false news is mainly formed from habit and practice. For a child it can be complex at the beginning, so some important notions must be taught first:

Identify online risks. Knowing the types of potential risks that exist on the Internet and knowing how to act if you encounter one.

Identify persuasion techniques. That children are able to recognize when someone wants to use them, both in real life and online.

Evaluate what they see on the Internet. Encourage them to know that not everything they see on the net is real and if it is, to recognize its position or usefulness.

How and when to ask for help. Knowing who to go to for help if you see something online that makes you uncomfortable or worried.

It is also advisable to invite them to take into account simple actions related to their information management:

Check dates. How old is the information? Is it still functional?

Investigate the author. Preferably researchers, journalists or verified scientists.

Identify the clickbait. Clickbait is a practice that some information sources use to attract more readers to their website. This technique uses alarming and exaggerated news headlines that have nothing to do with the content of the news. Learning to identify it is necessary as it avoids falling into suspicious sites and is often the first sign of falsehood.

Use real and respected sources of information. Some of the sites that children visit for information are social networks and not appropriate sources of information. Teaching them to make the transition from the Internet of entertainment to the Internet of knowledge is necessary for their academic development.

These simple tips are useful in building a safe online environment for children who use the Internet on a daily basis to do their homework, communicate or entertain themselves and should be taken into consideration by all users, whether they are girls, boys, young people or adults. 

Learning to recognize false news is one of the requirements and keys to digital citizenship: An Internet user who is informed and aware of his or her activity and impact is also a responsible user who benefits everyone. Therefore, it is very important that children know how to do it from the first steps of their academic life.


Sources and references:

Martineau, P. (2019, 20 December). Facebook Removes Accounts With AI-Generated Profile Photos. Wired.

Gray, B. (2017). How to Fact Check Like a Pro. Lexis Nexis

BBC. (2019, 5 Juli). Fake news and how to spot it to be taught in schools — CBBC Newsround. BBC.

The School Run. (2019). Fake news spotting for kids | Build your child’s digital literacy | TheSchoolRun.