Safer Internet Day: Top tips to talk to children about fake news

Dr Linda Papadopoulos
Monday, February 8, 2021

The internet and social media have changed the way we learn about the world around us.

Yet with so many sources of information, it can be hard to keep up with what is real and what is fake online.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your children about fake news:

1. Always talk to them about the source of information: The notion of ‘the source’ is key with any information that a child consumes, so talking about it in various contexts from the authors of texts to research and news sites will help them think critically about the ideas they are being presented with. Parents should always speak to their child about where they are getting information from. Even if it’s on reputable websites, it should be talked about so they can understand the importance of credible sources. It’s about teaching them critical thinking so they can judge for themselves what’s real vs what’s fake.

2. Help them understand just because something is everywhere, doesn’t mean it’s true: It’s fundamental to point out that sometimes something that is inaccurate can be amplified online and become ubiquitous. Even if a story has been covered everywhere, 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.

3. Give them examples: 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 to 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.

4. Foster a discussion about it: It’s really important to get them 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 and get them to look at evidence to substantiate their points while you do the same.

5. If they have shared fake news, encourage them to put it right: 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 that sometimes we get things wrong 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. It also helps normalise the behaviour in that child’s environment so others can do it too.

6. Let them know that fake news should be reported and flagged: It’s also important to make sure they know how to report it to stop it from spreading further and affecting other people. Every social media site has their own guidelines and easy steps to take report content if you believe it is fake.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos is an ambassador at Internet Matters

Internet Matters has launched an online ‘Find the Fake’ quiz; testing family’s knowledge on spotting fake news and encouraging them to learn more about the issue. It aims to spark conversations between parents and young people about how to recognise fake news and limit the negative impact it can have.

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