Spotting Fake News: The New Skill Your Kids Need Now

Back in the days when America’s most trusted TV broadcast anchor Walter Cronkite was telling viewers “And that’s the way it is” they could be certain that indeed, that’s the way it was. But the Internet has forever changed the way our news is delivered – it’s a fast and loose world, full of fiction and fakes…. with a dash of fact.

We recently heard about Jennifer Coogan, editor-in-chief of a new education startup called Newsela. She is trying to help make sense of it all. Today, kids’ lives are “one-hundred percent digital,” Coogan told Business Insider in an interview. “And frankly, it's a lot easier in the digital world to create something fake.” Goodbye printing press, hello enter-key!

Here’s how the Newsela method works in the classroom: when kids read an article on their device, in addition to their normal comprehension questions teachers ask, they're prompted to get their kids to dive deeper into the article itself. For instance, Where do the facts come from? Is the article fair and balanced? Is there anything missing from the story?

There are so many major fake news sites, many of which have social media followers numbering in the millions. That doesn’t even include the satirical ones, like The Onion or The Drudge Report, whose articles are shared hundreds of thousands of times a day on Facebook (even amongst our most prudent friends).

“Even if [children] come from a family where the parents are news junkies,” Coogan says, “the way parents are consuming news is just not going to foster home training.” That’s why she feels Newsela’s method is needed in classroom everywhere. “I do think the onus is now on the teacher” to teach kids how to comprehend news, she says.

Facebook and Google have recently spoken out and taken some measures to crack down on bogus news peddlers – but they’re in a bind because they get money from all those clicks. So, it would seem that as long as folks click, fake news is here to stay.

As a parent, there are some things you can do to help your kids understand why phony news is so bad. For one thing, it can be truly dangerous. Just look at what happened with “Pizzagate” – In December of 2016, a North Carolina man was arrested after he walked into a restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, because he believed the fake news that Hilary Clinton was spearheading a child-abuse ring from the small pizzeria. That’s very serious – and if an adult can be taken in on an obvious sham, just imagine the developing brains of tweens and teens.

A recent study conducted by Stanford University, and reported on by NPR and other (legit) news sites, found that middle school, high school and college students in 12 states were not up to par when it came to separating fiction and fact. The students were asked to assess information presented in tweets, comments and articles. In exercise after exercise, the researchers were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of the information. “Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Our work shows the opposite.”

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to spot fake news. Teach your kids to watch out for the following:

  • Look for suspicious URLs. Some might have the same logo or font and be close to the names of legit news sites, but have just one letter or number off. Those that end with “lo” or “” trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren't.
  • Go to the About Us section. If there isn’t one, that’s a red flag. And if the site requires one to register in order to get their contact info, that’s another warning sign. Real news sites are transparent regarding their ownership and editorial staff.
  • Is the story overly emotional? Does it tug at the heartstrings or incite ire? Does it use lingo that’s designed to make you scared or worried? Watch out.
  • The overall look of the site may be another tip-off – if it looks like a digital tabloid, complete with headlines in all-caps or with multiple exclamation points, that’s an indication to steer clear. If their ads are click-bait – women in bikinis, men whose baldness has been suddenly cured, miracle diets, etc. – that’s another clue.
  • When it comes to hoax stories, a legit-looking picture can trick careless readers. Show your kiddoes how to find the photo’s original source by using TinEye or Google’s reverse image search to see if it’s being used in the proper context. And memes may be popular, but guess what? They are not a reliable news source.
  • Are the credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same story in the same way? Check Snopes, and Wikipedia before believing.

Fake news isn’t beneficial anyone other than its propagators – but the good news is, there are ways to sidestep it. Teach your kids now, and the world will thank you later.

Tags : education   life lessons   Internet   

Dona Kareno
This is so important.
Nikki M
I think EVERYONE could do with this skill!