They say a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoes. In the digital age, that adage is truer than ever. While the Internet allows us access to a more diverse range of sources of information and exposes us to new ways of thinking, it’s also easy for anonymous users to spread misinformation at the click of a mouse - whether willingly or not.
Children are exposed to more information at an increasingly young age: particularly in the current moment, when many housebound youths are getting more and more screen time. However, a worrying report from the National Literacy Trust
in 2018 found that just 2% of children have the critical literacy skills needed to tell if a news story is real or fake. Meanwhile, nearly half of teachers surveyed felt that the curriculum does not provide children with these crucial skills.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how dangerous the spread of misinformation can be. Baseless conspiracy theories involving 5G towers have led to acts of arson, while outlandish statements about treating the virus have seen individuals calling medical hotlines to ask about injecting bleach. But there are more long-term issues to consider as well; misinformation is often spread with the aim of promoting an extreme political view, and in some cases can lead to young children becoming radicalised.
It can be difficult to know where to start in protecting children from what feels like an onslaught of misinformation and fake news, but here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Communication is key
As is often the case, the best thing you can do to prepare your child is talk openly and honestly with them. Make them aware as early as you can that not everything they read on the internet is true, and that some people will make things up for less than innocent reasons.
Check your sources
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t trust everything you read on the internet.” Be sure to do some research and make sure that the places you get your information from are reliable and accurate. Fact-checking websites like Snopes
are particularly useful for double-checking.
Read past the headlines
The headline of an article (and sometimes even the first paragraph) is designed to be evocative and eye-catching, but they won’t tell you the whole story. Be sure to read news articles right to the end - you may find important information hidden away.
Beware of algorithms
People who push misinformation on YouTube
are often good at taking advantage of the algorithms the website uses to recommend new videos. If you have autoplay settings enabled, you may find yourself exposed to more and more extreme views without even realising it.
The new RSE curriculum
, which comes into effect from September 2020, is designed to address issues of online safety - including awareness of misinformation and fake news - and Natterhub
contains a plethora of resources related to the issue. Our ‘Question It’ lessons teach pupils to think critically about the information they find online, and our special ‘Natternews’ quizzes help them develop the ability to determine whether or not a news story is genuine.
In our hyperconnected age, we can’t stop lies from running halfway around the world, but we can at least make sure our children learn to tie their laces.