How to talk to your kids about fake news
Tackle the tricky topic of fake news with your kids
November 14, 2023
We often ask parents in the URSOR community if they’ve ever thought about the internet as something they’ll have to teach their children about. Surprisingly, most parents have not given much thought about how they will teach their kids the unwritten rules of the internet — such as how to discover and consume online content safely and effectively, how to deal with online bullying, and how to manage a digital footprint.
However, media coverage of a growing list of problems such as Elsa-Gate, and furore over facebook’s plans on Instagram for Kids, to name a few, means we are reaching a tipping point where parents are looking to take action.
From echo-chambers to deepfakes to phishing scams to digital footprints, team URSOR will be writing a series of blog posts that explain what these topics are about, how to talk to your children about them, and how to equip them with tools to help them cope and thrive.
In this blog post, we will tackle fake news.
What is fake news, and why do people create it?
Fake news is the creation and spreading of online news stories that are simply not real. Fake news could also refer to online stories that are genuine, but the specific facts of the story have been distorted. In short, the definition is in the title. Fake news is simply news that is fake, or highly inaccurate.
One of the most common reasons why fake news is created is to change someone’s opinion about a specific topic that can often be political in nature. In more malicious cases, groups or individuals create fake news to cause a reactive click on an advert, and use the fake information to persuade them to buy something, or worse, lure them into a phishing scam (more on that in another blog post).
However, sometimes fake news is created by a simple mistake. A reputable news outlet may just have reported some facts about an event wrongly, in which case these are often rectified later, but the correction doesn’t always get shared as widely as the initial bit of fake “whoa!” news.
Fake news is nothing new. It has always existed. But in the age of digital information, encountering it is more common and frequent than ever. A 2018 Ofcom report shows us that 2 in 5 kids have seen things they consider to be fake news.
How can fake news impact children and young people?
Fake news is a big problem for all of modern society living in the digital age, but it specifically becomes a problem when it comes to children because:
- It can lead children and teenagers, who can be trusting, and gullible even, by nature, to believe things about the world that are not true.
- Fake news may target specific minority groups and spread hate about them, which can have very negative real-world consequences.
- It could also cause increased stress and anxiety in children by confusing them on what is real about the world we live in and what isn’t.
Strategies to help children develop digital literacy?
Dealing with this topic is going to be different for each family, but there are 4 main principles we think can help as a starter. It’s also important to note that some of these principles really relate to having a sound digital literacy, and are useful beyond managing fake news:
- Explain what fake news is.
Explain to kids what fake news is. Don’t fear-monger. The Internet isn’t evil, but we do live in a world where things like this happen. It’s all about how you respond to it.
- Read the content thoroughly.
Teach them to go beyond the headline, read an article through to the end, think about the information in front of them, and not to act impulsively, especially if they’re being asked to by an ad or an article.
- Check multiple sources.
If something seems dramatic, or worrying, get them to search the same headline in a safe search engine like, and see if multiple sources are reporting on the same piece of news. Give them specific sources you personally trust that they can also check.
- Keep an open dialogue.
This works both ways. Encourage active discussions in the family about what is going on in the world, let them know they can talk to you about anything. URSOR can help with this, as our browser for kids comes with a parents dashboard that gives parents visibility on everything their kids are searching. If you know they’re looking at something, you can always talk to them about it.
A simple check-list you can teach your children.
Ultimately your kid's journey into the online world is going to be their own. You can monitor and control the process as much as possible, but there will be a point when they will be to old for you to keep tabs on them, so here’s a simple checklist you can teach them in order to develop a good framework for evaluating the news they read:
- What is the Story – What is the content trying to say? Can this piece of news be found elsewhere and is it reported in the same way?
- How does it make you feel – Fake news often attempts to manipulate people’s feelings to make them click. When they get a “woah” feeling, teach them to pause before sharing.
- Does the picture match the words – Does the picture look fake or out of context? Check with a reverse image search to find where it’s originally from.
- Who is the Author – What URL does the news come from? Check the address bar at the top – most trusted URLs end with “.com”, “.co.uk”, “.net”, “.gov”, “.org”, and “.edu”. Are there any experts named or quoted they can also search?
- Who’s sharing it – Even if the news is shared by someone famous, or a school friend, it doesn’t mean it’s real. Do share it with a parent to help you check.
Fake news is a reality we can’t hide from, and sooner or later your kids will encounter it. In our opinion, it’s all about how well you equip them to deal with it. At URSOR we’re building a browser for kids that shelters them from as much of this as possible, and gives parents the tools to be part of their children’s online journey.
URSOR provides reporting tools and content feeds that show you everything your children can see, and intervene when things don’t work, however, it ultimately comes down to having an open and honest relationship with your children about the online world, and a positive dialogue about the online world.