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Look out for Miss Information: How to explain disinformation to children

Have you ever questioned if what you read online is real or fake?

The internet is evolving – information can come from anywhere, be that reputable news sites, social media or articles without citation. It can be obvious to some which of these are trustworthy, however especially for the youth this isn’t so easy. We already observe the mass circulation of false information. Now more than ever, it is of the utmost importance to educate the youth on how to distinguish truth from lies and fact from fiction.

The sharing of false information online has two main sources:

Disinformation – The act of deliberately sharing misleading information which you know to be false but portray to be true.

Misinformation – This is the act of sharing false information unbeknownst to you.

There are many reasons why people especially those of a young age, engage and believe everything they see. It is an engagement, whether it is seen as a form of bullying, popularity or scaremongering, it leads to more serious consequences.

Children as young as 9 years old have connected devices. This opens the world of social media, online gaming and chat communications and much more.

In recent years there have been numerous headline worthy examples of disinformation, some include, flat earth theories, presidential elections and a hoax story that a well-known celebrity had passed away due to suffering a heart attack.

We must remember how naive children can be, most believing everything they are told. Online challenges have been a fad in recent years, from beneficial challenges such as the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to unfortunate ones such as the “Tide Pod Challenge”. Recently, a Spanish article shared that over 800 kids were hospitalised due to drinking hand sanitiser, allegedly as part of a popular social media challenge.

The amount of false information on the internet has become so immense that there are now entire websites based on the idea of spreading it, some of these “news” sites are known as satirical. Their goal is not to spread misinformation but instead to make it seem extremely unlikely to occur.

Their recent growth in popularity can be attributed to both the spreading of jokes and the more disappointing of those is the misunderstanding of the humour and believing it to be true.
In the past satirical sites have posted articles which ended up becoming true. This is similar to “The Simspons” effect or “The Infinite Monkey Theorem”. These sites can be a grey area, yes they provide humour however they also mislead.

With this flood of information, be it true, false or satirical – it is more important than ever for the youth to be able to detect fake news. Some ways of doing so, is by asking these 6 simple questions:

1. Where did you find this information?
2. Do you trust the URL?
3. Is it a well-known source?
4. What is the source of the information?
5. Is there an author attached to the piece?
6. What do you gain from sharing this information?

As the old Irish proverb goes – “a lie travels farther than the truth”. Always be wary of what you share online, make sure you have reliable resources to back you up!

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Emma Heffernan

Security Analyst at Edgescan