Here on the CIS Perspectives blog, we’ve talked a lot about how our community of educators, counsellors and school communities can protect students online. We’ve collected guidance to help them address online sexual abuse, bullying, sharing sensitive information between schools, school cybersecurity, how virtual counselling works, and various aspects of the move from in-person to online teaching and learning.
But where do we start when helping students protect themselves online?
An excellent place to start is helping them learn how to separate fact from fiction, especially with the additional complexities presented by the pandemic?
In this post, we share information from the team at Childnet that was written for parents and carers to support the children in their care; it’s useful for our schools to share with their communities too.
Here are some ways that young people’s experiences online have changed during the pandemic, along with guidance to support them if they see misinformation and fake news online. Childnet gathered this feedback and suggestions by speaking directly with young people in their Youth Advisory Boards, Digital Leaders Programme, Digital Champions, and in schools.
“During COVID, because [it’s] an entirely new topic [misinformation has] increased, and it’s slightly more detrimental now because everyone is online all the time […] There’s so much of it that it becomes believable.”
Misinformation is when inaccurate or untrue information is shared online; you may also hear it referred to as ‘fake news’. Although misinformation and fake news have always been present online, young people tell us this has been more noticeable during the pandemic.
“More and more people see this misinformation, especially young people, because they’re at home and are on social media, they come across that and then form opinions but they don’t have the correct information.”
As lockdown and restrictions change worldwide, there remains a lot of confusion about what is true, especially as a lot of people are posting about it online. Young people have told us about the anxiety and stress that may be caused by seeing misinformation online. We also know that some of the stories about COVID-19, such as fake remedies or myths about the vaccine, have the potential to be dangerous.
“What you can do is prevent people from acting upon it and acting upon it inappropriately. If you teach people the rights and wrongs of it, […] what is fake news and misinformation, then you can prevent people from sharing it further or actually believing it.”
Young people are also telling us about some of the strategies they have for identifying misinformation and fake news. They are clear that support from their parents and carers is key.
Here are our five top tips for supporting children and young people with misinformation and fake news during the pandemic:
- Talk regularly with your child about how they use technology and where they go for information online. Childnet’s Let’s Talk About Life Online leaflet can help parents and carers start these conversations.
- Set an example for your child. If you spot an example of fake news, discuss with your child how you spotted it, and question the source and purpose together. Do some further research and work out whether you think it’s reliable or not so that your child is practising these skills and can then use them more independently.
- Look at your own sharing practices—avoid talking about or sharing content that could be misinformation or fake news. You can make use of fact-checker sites to help you assess how reliable something is and encourage your child to do the same.
- Check in with your child and make sure they know that they can come to you with anything they are unsure of. It’s also okay to not have all the answers! If there is something that you are still unsure about, speak to other educators, parents and carers about it, they may be feeling the same way about a particular news story or may be able to offer you some help and guidance.
- Take action against fake news and misinformation. Some social media services and websites allow you to report stories that you think may be unreliable. Find out more about reporting here. If you see a friend or relative sharing news which you think may be inaccurate, you may be able to report it anonymously, or you can try talking to them directly.
Get your students involved! Separating fact from fiction
Childnet film competition: Open to international submissions for the first time!
At a time when young people are using the internet more than ever, we want them to take the lead and create short films exploring key themes such as: What can you do to find out whether something online is true or not? Why would someone post something online that isn’t true? How would we help someone to understand the difference between fact and fiction?
Competition closes Monday 14 June 2021. Find out more.