Help Your Kids Decide What News is Worth Sharing
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How do you make a good decision or form a sound opinion? For most adults, the answer is obvious. Find the best information you can from reliable sources.
For young people, who get much of their news from what’s shared on Facebook and other social media, things may not be as clear. Unfortunately, many in this age group aren’t able to evaluate what they find, according to a recent Stanford University study.
The results of the study suggest that middle-schoolers didn’t understand the difference between reported news and “sponsored content,” high school students assumed that an unattributed photo proved the truth of a story, and college students couldn’t detect bias in a tweet.
How Parents Can Help
Social media makes it possible for children — and adults — to become information sources for each other. This means parents must often act as editors.
Start by talking to your children about what deserves to be shared online. Point out that false and biased information comes from many sources — deceptive advertising, satirical websites or organizations with an agenda.
And then there’s “click bait”— tidbits of “news” so astonishing or implausible people click and share them without thinking. These so-called stories are created to generate revenue. The more clicks, the more revenue. Anyone who shares these items is essentially helping an unscrupulous person make money.
Help your child evaluate what he or she finds online, talk regularly about how important it is to be skeptical and ask the following questions:
1. Is the news worth reading? According to a study at Columbia University, 59 percent of links shared on Twitter have never actually been clicked. Fake news sites, in particular, depend on mindless sharing to make money.
2. Who stands behind it? Encourage kids to track stories back to the website from which they originated. What’s the purpose of the website? How is it funded? Is it trying to sell a product or promote an agenda? Look at the URL. Some fake news sites reel in unsuspecting readers with addresses that are deceptively close to legitimate sites.
3. What’s the source? Sources should be named and, in most cases, there should be more than one. These sources should be people who are qualified to have an opinion because they have studied or done research on the topic, or have acquired relevant experience.
4. Can the story be confirmed? Teach kids to Google stories and, for that matter, authors to find out if other people or organizations find them credible. A story that appears in one place or is based on a single tweet should be discounted. You can also point older kids to websites that help differentiate good information from bogus claims. Healthnewsreview.org evaluates stories about medical research. Politifact.com and factcheck.org attempt to verify claims by politicians. Tineye.com helps users track down photographs to see if they have been manipulated.
5. What’s the tone? Many online stories are designed to trigger feelings such as fear, anger or even hatred. Encourage your child to pay attention to words that manipulate or inflame emotions. The question should always be: Will sharing this make the world a better place?
Much of what is shared on social media isn’t serious, and kids don’t need to apply this level of scrutiny to animal videos or other playful posts. But children and adults should be aware that they and others are using information they get through social media to make decisions about social, political and health issues. As the Stanford University researchers stated: “Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed, or more ignorant and narrow-minded, will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it.”
Carolyn Jabs is the author of “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” a book that describes ways to address conflict in families, schools and communities. Visit cooperativewisdom.org for more information.