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Teaching Children About Reliable News Sources

The issue of fake news
A recent investigation from the BBC revealed AI-generated videos containing false scientific information and conspiracy theories, posted to YouTube channels, are being recommended in children’s YouTube feeds, labelled ‘educational content’.

Unfortunately, misinformation circulates online alongside genuine news. Often, fake news and misinformed content are presented in a way that is persuasive, eye-catching, and alluring, to trick people into believing.

The BBC defines fake news as:

completely made up stories disguised as news and made to go viral for political or commercial gain.’

For this reason, it’s important that as educators and parents we take action, to protect children from growing up absorbing misinformation.

Why educate children about reliable news sources?
False news and misinformation play on children’s natural state of curiosity as they learn about and encounter the world around them, which can ultimately influence their opinions and worldview.

As well as having a natural tendency to be inquisitive, children are often very literal. Therefore, they may accept information at face value, without interrogating things like news articles’ legitimacy, or the reputability of the person sharing the news.

The sensationalised subjects which often dominate misinformation, framed as a conspiracy ‘secret’ or something to be fascinated by, can hook children in and pique their natural curiosity and intrigue.

What can you do?
It can be difficult to control exactly what children see online, despite our best efforts of setting child restrictions and limiting screen time.

Given that misinformation often disguises itself as legitimate, we’ve devised some pointers you can explore with children, and implement at school or home.

Things to think about before believing or sharing stories online:

  • Has the claim been reported elsewhere by well-known media companies? If a news story is legitimate, often it will be repeated by various sources across different mediums, such as television, online, and radio.
  • Is the person explaining the news story an expert? Follows and likes on a post or article do not always equate to reliability. Fake news is intended to go viral.
  • Does the news report sound like a real person talking, or robotic, like an AI-generated voice? Sometimes posts deliberately sharing misinformation are AI-generated, to churn out content quickly.
  • Is the content believable and does it align with your existing knowledge on the subject? Questioning the believability of a story, to determine if it could actually occur, is important.
  • Is the source repeatedly accurate? Is the source or content creator consistently correct and proven with the stories they share? Mistakes can happen, even with skilled and experienced journalists. Legitimate news sources will always admit when they have reported something incorrectly, and then share the correct content.
  • Has the news story been discussed with a trusted adult? It’s good to discuss news stories that seem questionable or overly sensationalised with a responsible adult, to hear their opinion and help determine if the story is reliable or not.

Use these points as a checklist for exploring news stories, and remember to consider them before sharing stories on social media, or with peers at school.

Our main message
It’s important to preserve children’s education and provide them with legitimate news stories.

Learning about current affairs can be incredibly beneficial for children’s development.

However, as educators and parents, we must ensure we expose children to trustworthy news that is appropriate, but most importantly, real.

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