How to Teach Kids to Notice Fake News

How to teach children to recognize fake news? First, teach everyone to spot fake news. When I was a child, my parents had access to only a few news sources: our local newspaper, the big city dailies (for us, the Washington Post and the New York Times ), and the evening news. Today kids have … the entire Internet with all the crazy theories and fake moon landings right at their fingertips. Even the distinction between “media” and “journalism” has been erased to the point that many adults do not know if anyone can be trusted at all.

This means parenting now includes giving your kids the tools to judge whether a given story is real – supported by credible reports – or biased, or wholly and entirely fictional . Or Russian propaganda . To that end, educators design curricula to encourage “media literacy” in the face of the onslaught of, well, nonsense in the media and a president actively trying to discredit responsible journalism. To understand how parents can help their children separate fact from fiction, I spoke with two people deep in the trenches of media literacy.

Model your own “research habits”

When you watch or read the news with your children, “experiment with finding and checking facts,” says Faith Rogow , an educational consultant who specializes in media literacy for children. Explain how you choose what to click, and if you are reading something that annoys you, show your children how you can verify that what you are reading is real. “Explain,“ This doesn’t sound right to me, and I’m doing this to figure it out, ”she says. You want your child to ask the default questions, what the National Association for Media Literacy calls the “asking habit.” To do this, teach your children to ask a few common questions:

First, use common sense. If you read about something like PizzaGate or that Sandy Hook was a bogus, Rogow advises to “bring the train of thought to its natural conclusion.” This means the question: what else must be true for it to be true? How many people had to be involved in the conspiracy that Sandy Hook was a hoax or the moon landing was faked for this story to be true?

“The second question,” says Rogov, “who benefits from it, if it’s true?” Who benefits from this if there really was a group of pedophiles in one of the pizzerias in Washington DC? If you ask questions that take wild stories to their logical conclusion, children will begin to see holes. John Silva, director of education at the News Literacy Project, calls this real-time fact-checking by parents and children “side reading.” “While you’re sitting with your child, open another browser tab and start checking other sites,” says Silva.

But, you say, isn’t real news absolutely incredible these days? And what about the fact that Roy Moore was banned from visiting a mall in Alabama because he hunted young girls, for example – doesn’t that seem incredible, too ? This is when you start teaching your children the principles of accountability 101.

Check sources

“I would like every student to work on a newspaper in every school,” says Rogov. “If children were asked to tell about something local and detailed, they would understand what it takes to tell the story in detail.” If your child doesn’t have a school newspaper or is simply not interested in it, “ask him to check several different sources,” Rogow says. “Here’s a simple strategy: use a site like Newseum ‘s front page collection to see how the incident is reported in other countries. Ask your children, “What other point of view?” There are many ways to gently encourage people to think wider and deeper. “

If another publication is reporting the same story — say the New York Times mentions something that the Washington Post is reporting — Rogow says, “Look for the words independently verified. This means that the reporters themselves checked the sources, and did not simply repeat what others wrote. Here you can see who is doing their own reporting ”and who is simply referring to the original story – this is how the echo chamber is formed. Yes, and teach your children the words echo chamber. Silva stresses that “the standards that journalists aspire to are fairness and balance, fact-checking and verification .”

A cautionary tale for this lesson? Washington Post article about women who came up with their stories of alleged teenage harassment and assault on Roy Moore. Show your children how reporters confirmed that Lee Korfman told two friends at the time and her mother ten years later; note that they emphasize that she continually told her story over the course of six interviews, and that other women reported similar interactions with Moore when they were teenagers.

If you want to show your kids a great example of dishonest so-called journalism, take a look at James O’Keefe’s covert operation against the Washington Post and how the Post reporter did due diligence in investigating the “source” (plant) and trying to verify her account. … “The journalists followed their standards and that’s when [the source’s] story started to fall apart. It can be a terrific conversation with high school students: Project Veritas went to this interview with the intention of proving a certain point of view – they entered it with an agenda and prejudice against the Post from the [earlier] Roy Moore story. This is a cardinal rule: minimize bias. Journalists ask: “What are the facts? what can I check? They don’t go into the facts already written, ”says Silva.

Journalism 101 will also include a tutorial on the distinction between the news and editorial sides of an organization. “On Fox News, Sean Hannity is the opinion writer and Shepherd Smith is a journalist. Children should ask, “Am I watching the news or someone else’s opinion?” News sticks to facts; the opinion is more controversial. One piece of advice: if there is only one person on the screen, most likely it is news. If there are four or five, that’s a likely opinion, but you still need to listen carefully to what they say, ”says Silva.

Use tools

“Use fact-checking sites,” Rogov says. “Kids can learn to cut and paste a title in Snopes. You can also search the links [using a tool like OpenLinkProfiler ] to see who links to the story – Infowars will look like it’s very popular, but you can scroll down and see who those people are. This is where parents can reflect their own values ​​- if there is a link to it on a Nazi site, you will indicate that it may not be credible. “

Parents can also use Checkology , an online media literacy course for children, and show children how to reverse image searches or how to use TinEye on questionable photographs, such as one that allegedly depicts Antifa attacking a police officer .

It’s also helpful to teach kids some of the structural fundamentals of media, such as how Facebook’s algorithms hide some stories from you and highlight others. “Get news from news organizations,” says Silva. “The extra layer of social media algorithms increases the power of the filter bubble. You want to see how the original story was published, ”not how it was selectively edited to elicit a reaction. (For example, in the video where Trump throws a whole box of fish food into a koi pond. ) “If you watched the video in its entirety, you would know the whole story,” says Silva. “Teach children to look for context. Who is sharing this with you and why? Political organizations, news and entertainment sites are all different. “

And many people, for example, do not know that the first search results on Google are ads, and the rest of the results are influenced by your personal search history. “Children think that what appears in the feed on their phone is somehow neutral, when in fact it is structurally based on their own search history and what they click, so an echo chamber is created by default. Parents can help open this echo chamber by sending children to sources that their feed does not usually include, ”says Rogov.

There are many additional online sources to learn how to get rid of a bull; A good first stop for a teenager might be this news literacy toolkit , NewseumED, or Common Sense Media .

Check your reaction

“When you start reading information, a strong [emotional] reaction is a warning sign. If you are very happy, angry, or incredulous, chances are it was written in a way that you can manipulate. News is not meant to affect your emotions, it is meant to affect your intelligence, ”says Silva. The media thrives on drama; this is how merchants get clicks and reposts. If you stay cool, you can better weed out emotional manipulation in order to check the facts. He cites the child of a friend, a seventh grader, who read that on September 23rd the planet would collapse to Earth and destroy all life as we know it. The child was terrified and his mother could not explain him with fear. Explain to the children that this extreme emotional reaction is a red flag (and then teach them to check many different sources). “One source is a big warning sign,” says Silva.

Know the difference between bias, propaganda and common mistakes

“Think [with the kids] about the difference between a conspiracy or someone deliberately trying to mislead you, and a mistake [on the part of a reputable news organization] – they happen. Talk about bad reporting ”or reporting with bias (again, O’Keefe’s video is instructive). “Talk about why good journalists shouldn’t settle for this level of reporting,” Rogov says. A good tutorial on advocacy for kids is here . For adults, check out this essay on propaganda , written in 1944, which focuses on Hitler’s rise to power. And help them do their own research on how responsible journalists sometimes make mistakes and how news organizations should correct them.

Share your worries and values

Simply telling a 16-year-old child, “Don’t believe this,” doesn’t necessarily work — parents need to focus on encouraging their children to ask questions. “How many children understand the anti-Semitism behind attacks on George Soros?” – asks Rogov. “What if you showed them similar claims about Jews 40 or 70 years ago and asked, ‘Isn’t it interesting that they are targeting this one Jew? “Sow this little seed of doubt. Continue the interrogation. “

Make them do their own deep dive

In the end, the best tool children have is their own education and intelligence. Lauren Alix Brown, writer for Quartz , quotes CNN reporter Farid Zakaria’s advice that young people ignore the cacophony of the media in order to become experts in any subject area:

“I tell this to my kids all the time, ‘You can get hung up on all these headlines, tweets and blog posts you like’ – after all, the way you develop real knowledge of the subject remains, and you need to go deeper; it still remains that you really should be reading books; there is still what you need to talk to experts, go to countries. “

At some point, parents will be less in control of their children and won’t be able to weigh every conspiracy theory and outrageous headlines. But by then, we hope they will become experts in their own right, whether they are interested in medicine, foreign policy, or the federal tax code. And because we’ve taught them rigorous research skills, they won’t fall prey to every hoax on the Internet. In fact, maybe they will teach us gently someday. As Silva notes, “In fact, parents should have a moment to introspect about their own news habits.”


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