Teens and Misinformation: How to Help Your Teen Avoid Believing Misinformation Online
Anyone with a smartphone knows how easy it is to get sucked into an hour-long wormhole of scrolling. From funny cat videos to video game reviews to political commentary, information is constantly swarming toward you. That’s why we need strategies to sift through the clickbait to find the truth.
It’s up to us—our phones aren’t built with any intrinsic desire to care for our mental health. Only we are. Let’s go over how to help your teen avoid believing misinformation online.
Terms to Familiarize Your Teen With
- Clickbait: Headlines that are more compelling than the actual story to gain viewers on under-performing content. (Ex. Using the title, “Student Takes on Teacher During Class” to describe a funny thumb war between a student and their teacher.)
- Internet Hoaxes: Online jokes, character defamation, or political provocation with the goal of going viral. (Ex. Untrue internet rumors that Avril Lavigne died in 2003 and her record company replaced her with a look-alike.)
- Gullibility: a tendency to believe false information with ease.
Misinformation in Social Media
It’s important that your child understands enough about life before social media that they can identify the risks it still has. Humans have never been able to communicate with this many people at this fast of a rate before. This makes it hard to fact-check and assess everything that goes online.
While platforms like Facebook have tried implementing solutions like outsourcing fact checkers, there’s simply not enough (or a big enough budget) to catch every problematic post. Even reputable news outlets can cause damage by publishing breaking news stories before they’ve been well-researched or fact-checked. In today’s largely online world, one click is more valuable than the truth. (Money-wise, at least.)
However, we know that for the sake of our own sanity, honesty is more important. We can hold ourselves accountable by pausing and assessing every time we see a viral post that catches our attention.
Identify Trustworthy, Well-Known Sources Together
Sit down and explore sources you know you can trust with your teen. Start with news outlets, then move into professional organizations, then personal accounts. Read stories together and compare the most trustworthy ones, like a national news outlet, with something more prone to bias, like a small blogger or YouTuber. Discuss the differences you see in the content.
Ask yourselves questions, like…
- Is the source obvious to the audience or is the speaker ambiguous?
- How much would this source know about the topic? Do they have a relevant background or job title?
- How recently did they learn this information? Where did the speaker gain knowledge about this topic?
- Is this information being communicated first hand or by word of mouth? How credible does this make their perspective?
- Why do you think this source could be helpful? What gaps in knowledge may they fill? What gaps do they introduce?
- Is there another reliable place I can go to confirm this source’s information?
- How reliable has this source been in the past?
- Does this source have a motive for sharing this information? How does sharing this information make the source look?
Talk About the Feelings That Fake News Triggers
After you’ve identified some trustworthy sources, compare them to sources that are more untrustworthy. If your teen comes across something that they think is false, have them practice searching for information that may be more accurate. It’s important that they go through the steps of moving away from misinformation, and moving toward accuracy.
Remember, people spread misinformation online to get a reaction. The internet is a tiring place for our emotions to journey, so make time to take care of them. As you read through fake news with your child, check in with how it makes them feel.
Looking for a safe space to examine and explore your feelings? Schedule an appointment with me today, as an individual or as a family.