What is Fake News?
"Fake News" is not a term many of us would have been using 18 months ago. Despite the term's recent popularity, the idea of fake news is not a new one. Governments and powerful individuals have spread information via mass communication in order to boost support for many years. However, in today's world it's increasingly difficult to tell what is real and what isn't.
It is especially hard for children who have not yet developed critical thinking skills which help them to separate truth from fiction. It is important for parents to talk to children and young people about real and fake news content. Having conversations about fake news is one of the ways parents can help combat the impact of these stories.
How Big is Our Fake News Problem?
The complex nature of what constitutes "fake news" and what is stories or ideas we don't agree with makes it almost impossible to quantify how much "fake" news children and young people see.
We do know that it is serious enough to be an issue. For example, 6.6 million people saw a video posted about the Grenfell Tower disaster, which incorrectly claimed that 42 people had died in one room (BBC, 2017). Using social media increases young people's likelihood of being exposed to fake news in one way or another.
Types of Fake News
Parody or joke sites
You could argue these are the least harmful of "Fake News" sites. Most of these sites make it pretty obvious that they are not real stories. The purpose of these stories could be to amuse people or they could annoy or "troll" a certain section of society.
While adults could identify these stories are satire, children and young people may struggle.
News Imposter Sites
These “fake news” stories make up the bulk of the fake news on the internet. These articles usually have intriguing titles to encourage you to click on them, which generates money for ads.
This type of fake news will be very familiar to you if you read real news on the internet often. Below the main story, and regularly camouflaged as real “related stories” are a list of seemingly alarming news stories.
An adult thinking critically would realise that this source was untrustworthy. However, a child or young person could easily be tricked. In addition, the most common place to see these aside from as ads are as shared stories on social media.
Fake Stories on Real Sources
This third and final type of fake news is perhaps the most insidious of all. These stories are fake but usually contain a grain of truth in order to trick otherwise reliable news websites to carry them. The purpose of these stories varies – sometimes it is a prank, others seek to influence the debate around an issue but they undermine the trust in all news sources.
These sorts of stories are the most difficult for parents to safeguard children and young people against, as one of the most reliable ways to dismantle fake news is by checking reliable news sources.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has a handy 8-step process which is quick, easy to understand and available to help distinguish fake from real news.
1. Consider the source – is it usually reliable and have you ever heard of them before?
2. Read Beyond – read the whole story, not just the headline
3. Check the author – are they a real person?
4. Look for supporting sources – fake news is less likely to have multiple verifying sources
5. Check the date – maybe it wasn’t fake news when it was posted but is it now?
6. Is it a joke? – teach children about how some of these articles are meant to be funny, and why people make jokes like this.
7. Check your own biases.
8. Ask the Experts – a teacher, a fact-checking website or tell children to ask you as a parent!
How to Talk to Children & Young People about "Fake News"
1. Ask your children about what they have heard to find out about what they already know.
2. You might want to consider where your young person gets their news from. If they are reading it on social media tell them not to rely on it too heavily for news.
3. Try and explain things in a simple and age appropriate way as possible. Explain that sometimes people may lie and why they might do that.
4. Listen and acknowledge – children often feel misrepresented or unhappy with the news they read. It is important to listen to what they are feeling, and respond.
5. Parents can also improve children’s media literacy during everyday activities. For example, if your child or young person watches a lot of Youtube videos, ask them what they know about who created them, and why. This is a simple and easy way to build up to a conversation about “fake” content.