How to Teach Youth to Spot Misinformation
There is a lot of talk in our culture about misinformation particularly on social media platforms. Since youth spend a huge amount of time on social media and even get their “news” from these platforms, it’s important that we raise adolescents to be able to distinguish the difference between real facts and possible fabrication. We want the next generation to be able to recognize when they see posts, stories or memes that are entirely fictional but are designed to look like news.
Why is their misinformation?
Social media platforms have no interest in deterring misinformation because the more outrageous the content, the more people interact with it. In fact, the platforms profit from “engagement,” and misinformation gets clicks. Teens need to understand that companies profit from spreading fabrications.
Why is it important for teens to spot misinformation?
Ensuring that children have better access to reliable information can help them to:
- Make more informed choices in their life
- Avoid scams
- Have a balanced view of the world around them
- Have informed discussions about issues they are passionate about
- Form a realistic view of different parts of society
- Express themselves in ways that consider other viewpoints
- Become better critical thinkers overall, which will benefit them throughout their life
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to misinformation. Adolescents are in a developmental stage designed to develop their own tastes, distrust authority, and seek out the sensational. Combine that with the social media algorithms, and it becomes very easy for teens to be exposed to extremist views, whether they seek them out or not.
Tips to Spot Misinformation
The absolute best thing parents can do to help their children become digitally literate is to encourage critical thinking.
Ask questions. Train your teens to ask some probing questions about posts they see, such as:
- Who made this? Is this a reputable source?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is the post’s intention? Was it meant as a joke or as a formal piece of news?
- Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if I click on this?
- Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
- What is left out of this message that might be important?
- Is there proof that this it true beyond this one source? Are other credible sources reporting the same information?
- Headlines are often misleading because networks make money when users click on stories. If I read the whole story, does the information actually support the headline?
Hone their detective skills. Don’t lecture your teen or tell them something they have read online is false. Instead, encourage them to check the information for accuracy themselves. You might suggest they use one of the numerous fact-checking sites, such as Fullfact.org and Snopes.com.
Explain clues. Discuss ways that organizations can make misinformation appear real. Teach teens to look for clues that indicate they should be skeptical of the information. Misinformation often has these signs:
- unusual URLs or site names that are trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but aren’t.
- poor quality of the post or ad.
- features words in all caps.
- headlines with glaring grammatical errors.
- bold claims with no sources.
- sensationalist images, such as women in bikinis.
Identify ads. Let teens know that promoted ads at the bottom of reputable sites can also be used to spread misinformation. These ads are designed to look like articles on the reputable website, so to spot them, you’ll usually see an “Ad” tag or “sponsored content” tag near the image.
Encourage evaluation. You could try picking a news story and ask your teen to give you two opposing perspectives. The idea is to push them to see the same set of facts from at least two different viewpoints. Or you can point out sponsored stories masquerading as news and ask your teen to evaluate them. These exercises can be fun and will certainly help your teen develop their skills in evaluating information. They can make great dinner conversations!
The internet is filled with problematic content, and it can be difficult to know what to trust. For older children, it’s important to stress that we tend to trust things that we agree with more than those we don’t. Even if you read something online that you don’t agree with, it’s important to take a step back and consider the facts. Keep talking to your teens about what they are seeing online and encourage them to think critically.