How can you tell the difference between real news and fake news? Fake news takes the form of misleading or false information that’s becoming all too common on the internet today. Digital technology has made it easy to churn out fake photos, videos and articles that can pass for the real thing. It’s smart to be skeptical — particularly when children are involved. Fake news can trick or defraud people and it’s often shared by others who don't realize they’ve been duped. It’s critical that parents and kids learn to identify fake news and here are some clues to help:
- Check the URL. Look for unusual URLs or site names, including those that end with ‘.co’ — these sites often try to appear legitimate but typically they’re not. If in doubt, your child should ask a parent or teacher for help.
- Is it ‘breaking’ — or ‘faking’ — news? Are other credible mainstream news outlets ignoring the ‘breaking news’ that your child is seeing? If so, that doesn't mean what they are viewing is fake, but it does mean they should, with your help, dig deeper to separate fact from fiction.
- Sensational headlines. Headlines can certainly appear outrageous when their goal is to generate clicks. Headlines written in capital letters or using huge numbers that simply don’t look right are suspicious. Explain to your child that it’s important not to take a headline or social media splash at face value — read the whole story before deciding whether it’s real, fake or simply exaggerated. Also, watch out for outrageous or unrealistic images that may be fake or digitally altered.
- Assess the language and structure of websites. User-friendly, easy-to-read websites are more likely to be accurate and reliable than those presenting unusual information or hard-to-read fonts and odd formatting. In addition to the structure, check for spelling or grammatical errors. Well-researched articles are typically closely edited before posting.
- Consider the source. Click away from the story to investigate the entire site and what it contains. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn't exist, be suspicious.
- Check the author. Is the author missing? Most authors who put time into a well-researched article will likely have their name attached to it. If the author’s name is listed, your child should do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
- Look at dates. It’s not unusual for news stories from years gone by to resurface and start trending, so teach your child to look for a story’s publication date. Older articles may contain outdated information.
- Use respected sources. Information on popular sites or on social media can be misleading. Use only reliable content sources that have been reviewed before publication on websites.
- Supporting articles. Kids should keep an eye out for ‘related’ articles that are not reporting news or that are part of ‘sponsored content’ sections, intended to distract them and encourage clicks.
Fake news can pop up anytime and it gains traction — and believability — when it starts to be widely disseminated across social media and other channels. Teach your child to read stories or posts thoroughly and determine how reliable they are before they hit ‘share.’ Remind them that just because someone has shared something previously, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Finally, teach your child to trust their instincts. If something sounds ridiculous or too good to be true, it probably is.