Training kids about media, propaganda, fake news, etc?
December 31, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I feel like learning how to keep kids safe on the internet has changed a lot recently. I want to train my nine year old boy on spotting fake information online. Any pointers?
posted by jragon to Education (10 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A great starter question is "Why am I being told this story?" That opens up a lot of conversation about sensationalism and bias. You should also consider subscribing to your local newspaper even if it has a lot of "junk." CNN "news" coverage of brown people behaving badly in locations far away from you is about the least useful "news" that could ever enter your life. Pure and lazy propaganda directed at their core demographic and inoffensive to advertisers.
posted by amanda at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think a good start is to teach him to be skeptical. Start with reviews of things he's interested in. Apps? Video games? Toys?
"This toy commercial makes it look really awesome. Why do you think they want to show it even better than it really is?" Find some very poorly rated items but show him the trailers/commercial/etc that makes it seem incredible.

I did this with my now-third-grader and it really hit home with him. Now if he sees a game or something he wants he immediately checks reviews. He eye rolls at some commercials and expressed doubt about the claims.

Fast forward to this election cycle. He's been surprisingly interested (the whole school was talking about Donald Trump). He expressed doubts about claims, but we have tried to be sure to NOT dismiss everything Trump says and instead investigate, always giving the benefit of the doubt. I want him to be skeptical, but not only of the things he disagrees with.
posted by beccaj at 9:16 AM on December 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you know how media companies make money, how they are financed and financially profitable? Or how they stay in business despite losing money? Who sits on the boards of these businesses?

9 years old is old enough to learn about how money works. If you teach him about the underlying system driving the phenomenon, he'll be able to spot the symptoms (fake news) when it crops up. The way it's presenting today is not what it will look like in 5 or 10 years, teaching him how it works "under the hood" will help him recognize new iterations of fraudulent info and facts as he grows up and the tactics shift around.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 AM on December 31, 2016

I began years ago by telling all my children to not put anything out electronically, particularly online unless they were ok with it being public to the world. That includes any pictures and anything that could tell anyone details about you.

I would then look at what his current web diet is. What types of sites and interactions does he use? Sit with him occasionally just to observe and ask questions. That will raise your awareness of what he knows and does not know.

Make a game of having him find some fake information and presenting it to you. Maybe a reward for fooling you!

I agree it is becoming more difficult. I came across this piece from the New Yorker magazine. With the bizarre happenings in the political realm recently, my own sensors were just filing this away as one more actual happening. That was until I managed to check the header which read "satire".

If he is discerning of news, talking with him about the recent imgur image featuring news outlets would be healthy. One place that has already done some deconstruction of that chart is here.

Snopes might introduce him to many of the past fallacies which have spread rapidly via the web.

I like beccaj's suggestion of using online reviews as a resource. There are now over 5,600 reviews for one product on Amazon that might inform and entertain you both for hours.
posted by tronec at 9:29 AM on December 31, 2016

Another basic is to teach him to look for the 5 W's... Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

So often I find these missing from "news" (should always be in the first paragraph or opening statement.) Whenever they are missing, I know I am looking at bullshit or somebody's opinion, not a factual hard news story. This is, like, the first thing you learn in journalism school. Lack of the 5 W's is always my first "tell" I'm looking at something that lacks integrity.
posted by jbenben at 9:37 AM on December 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Teach him about sources. This is difficult, but just making him aware that there are a lot of unreliable sources out there is a good start. Of course, Facebook is never a reliable source, so anything he sees there or on other social media should be independently verified through existing, known sources. It's going to be pretty much impossible for him to memorize all the reliable local news outlets, but just let him know to be suspicious, and to always look for the source of the information to make sure they're not all pointing to the same untrustworthy source. If something is genuinely newsworthy, it'll probably be independently verified by a real, known journalist.

Also teach him about biases, how to recognize his own, and how to evaluate how a story might be geared toward exploiting those biases to get clicks. There are a lot of stories that aren't necessarily untrue, but are insignificant, and that can add up to a distorted perspective. If he's seeing a national news story about a waiter getting stiffed on a tip or a kid getting in trouble at school or some random person thousands of miles away saying something nasty, it's worth asking what makes this significant enough for him to be seeing it.

Teach him not to rely on headlines, especially if he has strong opinions about them or intends to spread them in any way. Even the best news organizations often have crummy, misleading headlines. There's way too much 'news' out there to read every article, but for the ones that matter to you, you really have to.

The stakes were very different when my son was that age, but I made a point to teach mine to be skeptical as well, and he was very receptive, in part because it appealed to his impulse to act like a jaded little know-it-all at that age, and later, to his adolescent rejection of everything. Those traits can be annoying, but I think of them as awkward stages in the development of healthy skepticism. We had lots of great mother-son time heckling the news together.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:45 AM on December 31, 2016

There was a recent question on Metatalk about this: Primer on how to recognize bullshit and misinformation? The CRAP Test links are geared to adults but it is a good acronym for kids to learn : Currency (is it recent?), Reliability (is it backed up by sources?), Authority (is the author an expert?), Point of View (is it biased? Are they trying to sell you something? Is it fact or opinion?).

This will need to go hand in hand with teaching your son about the difference between fact and opinion, and just generally teaching him a lot about historical and cultural context:
Mind you, mastering “crap detection 101,” as digital guru Howard Rheingold dubs it, isn’t easy. One prerequisite is that you already know a lot about the world. For instance, Harris found that students had difficulty distinguishing a left-wing parody of the World Trade Organization’s website from the real WTO site. Why? Because you need to understand why someone would want to parody it in the first place—knowledge the average eighth grader does not yet possess.

In other words, Google makes broad-based knowledge more important, not less. A good education is the true key to effective search. But until our kids have that, let’s make sure they don’t always take PageRank at its word.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:21 AM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

A close relative who taught elementary school age kids about this used this glorious website

She presented it to them as a regular website and waited for someone to figure out something was fishy, which was a nice lead in to how to tell if something is fishy.
posted by sacchan at 4:51 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've looked at BS with my 9yo, and then we've together tracked down sources explaining why it's BS. I think the sources part is pretty key -- for years I've been telling her to stay skeptical and look for multiple reliable sources, and to double-check even me. I homeschool, but if I didn't I would've blithered on about the very large number of times I'd caught teachers making mistakes. And, reputable news sites have made mistakes; sometimes you need to wait a little while for verification. Etc. Mostly just a constant message of QUESTION AUTHORITY!
posted by kmennie at 5:46 PM on December 31, 2016

Someone recently asked the same question; you could look to that for help.

I'm a teacher and we spend some time teaching how to find good sources, etc., but the biggest shift is that we now teach kids to not fully believe ANYTHING they read on the internet, period. 3 years ago we spent a lot of time finding "trustworthy" sites but now we do less of that and instead have kids look at different website's reporting of the same story.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:10 AM on January 1, 2017

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