Fake news, also known as junk news or pseudo-news, is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. In the age of social media, it’s everywhere and it’s blurring the line between fact and fiction. But how can we expect kids to spot the truth online when us adults struggle? Here’s some advice to help your child spot when they’re being fed false or misleading information.

Fake news isn’t entirely new. The media has often published stories that have turned out to be untrue. The difference with fake news today is that it’s often been deliberately created to misinform people, whether for fun, malice or to support someone’s ideological or political agenda. 

This makes it really difficult for young people to spot fake news. Research found that 70% of 8-17-year-olds recognise what they see online can be misleading – but only 33% find it easy to check if it is factually correct. 


Five clues to help spot fake news:

1. Does the web address (URL) look suspicious?
2. Does the story come from a third party or news outlet you’ve never heard of?
3. Does the person have a political or ideological agenda to push?
4. Are they trying to sell you something by scaring you?
5. Does it look like the image/video has been ‘Photoshopped’ or faked?


What can parents do?

The main thing to do is get your child to think critically and question what they’re seeing. Get them thinking about four key questions: 

1.    Who’s saying it, and can they be trusted? 

Make sure they know that not all sources of information are reliable. If an unverified Twitter or Instagram account posts a message saying a band has broken up, it could be from anyone. The band’s official social account or website is more likely to be trustworthy as it has inside information and will check its facts before posting. 

2.    Is your child thinking about what they’re sharing? 

Discuss with your kids whether they’re more likely to share something on social media if it’s really funny, exciting or shocking. Like real world gossip, posts and news spread quickly before people bother to check they’re true because they want to be the first to pass it on. Even if a correction is posted, it’s likely it won’t receive the same attention as the original news, and by that time the damage has already been done. 

3.   Whose side are they on? 

Sometimes we want to believe a story is true, but that doesn’t always make it so. Talk to your child about bias and the power it has to change what people think, say and do. Urge them to get a balanced perspective by checking several news sources, not just rely on one.

4.  Does it look trustworthy? 

You can look for visual clues to help know whether a story is real. Today it’s easier than ever to manipulate images, so your kids should question what they are looking at and whether it looks right. Look for inconsistencies in images and video, factual or spelling mistakes in social media updates or news stories, and always check the web address. Many fake news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the address that can easily go unnoticed.


Top tip:

If your child doesn’t know how to recognise a verified account on Twitter or Instagram, ask them to look for the small blue badge with a white tick. While not every official account has a badge, this is usually a good starting point.


For more information on fake news, read Parent Info’s parent guide


This article was originally written in partnership with Parent Zone.