We live in the information age. If you want to know anything, just Google it. However, it can be incredibly difficult to sort through it all to find the truth. The disturbing thing is that many people are acting on the false information they find online. They make unwise purchases; they retweet “facts” without checking for truthfulness; and even worse they may end up harming themselves or harming others. For example, only this week NPR reported on a man who took a gun to a popular family restaurant to investigate a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a sex ring there. His source of information? Fake news stories on the internet. If grown men are so easily misled and manipulated by false information on the internet, what’s going to happen to our children?
To make wise use of online information, a person needs to have good reading and comprehension skills. But that’s not all. You also need to be able to make comparisons and critically assess if the information is accurate and reliable. This is a skill that needs to be taught to our children.
At present, our children are woefully unprepared. If you want to read an interesting study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group, click here to read their PDF summary. They found, for example, that over 80% of middle school students identified a native advertisement as a legitimate news story although it was labeled “sponsored content”. And just because they say a photo, they believed an obviously false story.
How can children learn to read online information critically? They need to learn how to ask searching questions, such as:
1) Is it from a reliable source?
- Is this person or organization known for telling the truth?
- Or do they have bias that causes them to only report things that promote their viewpoint or puts cash in their pockets?
- What authority, experience, training, or credentials do they have?
2) Is it professionally written?
- Is the information clear or confusing; consistent or contradictory; vague or detailed; provable or unverifiable?
- Are there grammatical errors that suggest it was written by an unskilled writer?
3) Does it make sense?
- Does it contradict what I know to be true?
- Is more than one trusted site reporting this piece of information?
It’s not wrong to question and examine what you hear or read. There’s a lot of truth in the adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is”. This doesn’t mean you become fearful or suspicious and see conspiracies everywhere. Just remember the old Russian proverb that President Reagan used, “Trust, but verify.” It means being open-minded enough to consider all sides before making up your mind. Let’s continue the conversation over on my Facebook page. I’d be interested to know what questions you ask when you want to verify a story.
To read more on my website: Parenting.