As cable news grew in popularity, the distortion of current events became more pronounced. But the real changes in news quality have come in the last decade, with many people (especially youth and young adults) turning to online news outlets or social media for the majority of their information.
The popularity of these channels has given rise to the problem of “fake news”—misleading or untrue information that is broadcast as fact by people or organizations whose goal is to manipulate news consumers.
What's true? What’s fake?
In this new environment how can we know what news is real? Now that anyone with access to a phone or computer can publish information online, it's getting harder to tell. And if it’s hard for adults to tell the difference, imagine how tricky it can be for our children.
Now more than ever, as more people go to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and other online sources for their news and information, it's important that all of us—especially our children—learn to decode what we read online so we can tell fact from fiction.
What to Teach Our Children
Most kids and teens get their news from their social media feeds, so they need to learn how to view stories critically. Here are a few basic questions to consider whenever you and your kids encounter a piece of media:
- Who created this news and what is their source? Is it a reputable news organization or a special interest group?
- Who is the target audience?
- Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
- Who might benefit or be harmed by this message? Does this message target a certain group or minority?
- What is left out of this message that might be important? There are usually two sides to a story—are both represented?
- Is this credible (and what makes you think it is or isn’t)?
As you read news articles and posts with your children, work through the answers to these questions together. It will help them learn the skills they need to be critical consumers of news information.
Other Tricks to Spot Fake News
There are other tricks that can help you spot fake news:
- Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with ".lo" or ".com.co"—these are often trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren't.
- Look for signs of low-quality content, such as words in all caps, headlines with grammatical errors, bold claims with no sources, and sensationalist images.
- Check a site's "About Us" section. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn't exist—or if the site requires that you register before you can learn anything about its backers—you have to wonder why they aren't being transparent.
- Check Snopes, a nationally recognized news organization, or Google before trusting or sharing news that seems too good (or bad) to be true.
- Check your emotions. Fake news stories (often promoted with “clickbait,” or sensationalist headlines or images meant to draw clicks) strive for extreme reactions. If the news you're reading makes you really angry or overly satisfied, it could be a sign that you're being played. Check multiple sources before trusting.
Getting Out of the Social Media Bubble
Your children should also understand as they grow older and more sophisticated that their social media feed is likely to be giving them information from people who think like them. That is how social media algorithms work.
Your kids should keep in mind that there are usually two sides to every issue. They may need to venture beyond their social media bubble to understand what that differing point of view is. (It will make them more critical thinkers and better citizens.)