Saturday, December 31, 2016

Safeguard your Family from Fake News

Fake News. It warps minds, promotes wrong views, and even hurts innocent people. In our world
of social media, blogs and online news, it’s impossible to avoid. Can we keep our kids away from it?
However, we can do something about it. We can educate our children so when they do read fake news, they’ll be able decide for themselves if it’s fact or fiction.

Why not start with something ridiculous? Show them the headline “Michael Phelps returns to His Tank at Sea World.” It’s a false headline from the newspaper The Onion, which is dedicated to making us laugh. Sometimes people read just part of a headline and take it seriously.

Point out that the author of a fake news story is in it for the money. All he has to do is build a website, make up a story and sell ad space. A sensational story will get lots of hits, and sellers will want to advertise on the site. They also trick people into visiting the site by naming specific cities. Everyone’s interested in what’s happening in their own town. One post claimed Johnny Depp was moving to the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The post got 150 Facebook interactions. Another trick hoaxers use is to design their website to look like an authentic news source, and mix in fake photos with real images. Fishermen tricked ABC in airing a hoax video of the Lake Champlain lake monster. A clever trickster can lure you to his web site, and he’ll make a profit, no matter if the story is true or not.

Armed with that knowledge, your kids are ready to use this checklist.
  • When they read a post on social media or an internet source, they can ask themselves, who made this?
  • Who is the target audience?    
  • Who paid for the post?
  • Or, who gets paid if you click on this? 
  • Who might benefit or be hurt by this message?
  • What is left out of this message that might be important?
  • And to double check on the facts, use, or Hoax-Slayer.
  • The most important thing to remember is: STOP before you forward (or use the story). Check its authenticity.  While it’s fun to share silly stories, let the next person know it’s fiction, not fact.

Karen Hokanson Miller is a former journalist and the author of Monsters and Water Beasts: Creatures of Fact or Fiction? Middle grade nonfiction (Henry Holt)

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