The Internet, especially social networks, floods us daily with countless news, messages and stories. In the process, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between truth and deception. Teaching children how to recognize false information on the Internet is a real challenge. This article offers practical advice on how to deal with disinformation and false news on the Internet and how to talk to your child about it.
The many news items, reports and stories that we encounter every day usually come from television programs, daily newspapers, people in our environment or well-known personalities. Many are spread by lesser-known people on the Internet and through messenger services like WhatsApp. However, the senders also include websites and people who intentionally spread lies or half-truths in order to cause confusion. They deliberately spread disinformation, rumors, or even hateful messages designed to stir up insecurity and deliberately deceive us.
It is not only difficult for children and young people to distinguish trustworthy news from fake news. Because often these fake news are so skillfully made that at first glance they look like serious news . This can be problematic, especially when it comes to political contributions with an extremist or populist background or when conspiracy theories are spread. Content that can unsettle or frighten younger children in particular is also problematic. Deep fake videos in particular look deceptively real. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the differences between disinformation, false news and satire.
Disinformation spreads especially when people are insecure anyway and even experts or politicians do not have answers to all questions – such as during the Corona crisis and the Ukraine war. Fake news often provides the answers you want and can help deal with uncertainty. Unfortunately, they are not true. Questions like “Are the vaccines safe, too?” or “Where does the virus come from?” are answered with inappropriate numbers and false facts. The problem with this is that the more often such articles are clicked on, the more often they are displayed – and people believe them to be true. That’s why it’s important to realize that not everything you read is necessarily true.
Determining whether it is indeed a hoax can be a tricky task. Therefore, it is helpful to follow clear steps to curb the spread of disinformation:
Check where the message came from and who wrote it. Is the author known and expert on the subject? Is it a reputable website?
Try to verify the message with different sources. Ask yourself how up-to-date the information is and check where the figures and data mentioned come from as well as the context in which they were collected.
Pay attention to the way the message is presented. Is the language serious and factual, or is emotional language and excessive capitalization used? Does the article contain catchwords such as “lying press” or similar provocative terms? Could the article be meant satirically?
Make sure photos and videos match the message and are up-to-date. Pay attention to captions and whether they actually represent what is being described or are from another context.
Discuss news and messages together as a family. Your child should understand that not everything on the Internet or sent via WhatsApp does not have to be true. If you check messages together, it can gradually learn to distinguish true from false. Ask for your child’s opinion and share your own thoughts. This will help you and your child be more confident and prepared to recognize and counter disinformation and fake news on the Internet.
Fake news spreads especially when many people forward or share it. Therefore, you should always consider whether a message can really be true. Here are some tips on where to check Fake News and how you and your child can learn to deal with it in a fun way: