Only half (48 per cent) of children know what a fake news item is and 22 per cent believe that it is impossible for fake news to be broadcast on television or in news publications. Subsequently, 1 in 2 children and adolescents rarely or never check the truth of a piece of online content. Only 13 per cent check that the information comes from official sources and 14 per cent consult with those close to them. These are the results of a study conducted by Save the Children Romania in April 2020, with responses collected from 956 children aged 10-19, from 32 counties and Bucharest.
In the last few months, the key subject in most news bulletins and blogs was the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and the world. Furthermore, in August and September 2020, Romania witnessed intensive online political campaigns pertaining to elections for local government. These two topics intersected in noisy public debates regarding the context, rules and preparations for the beginning of the new school year, thus many children were involuntarily impacted by such messages. As thousands of contradictory articles, interviews and social media posts from various people flooded everyone’s newsfeeds, a lot of confusion was generated in adults and children alike.
As we knew from the study, most children lack critical thinking skills about the media and this makes them vulnerable to the spread of false information, misleading campaigns and negative experiences, especially during periods where they spend even more time online (such as school closure, vacation, even online courses). To support children in developing much-needed skills to evaluate data and to filter online information, Save the Children Romania decided to launch a new campaign for secondary and tertiary public educational institutions from October to December 2020. This initiative is called “Critical Thinking in the Digital Era – Stop fake news!” and it brings together hundreds of teachers and students aged 12-18 from public schools in a challenge to learn and share knowledge about this topic.
The first component of the campaign empowers the teachers to facilitate two educational activities where pupils can get a better understanding of the definitions and implications of fake news. For this purpose, teachers can freely use the resource package offered by the Ora de Net platform, which includes multimedia learning materials about the hidden agendas of messages creators, discerning between false and true information and checking facts from multiple sources. To enroll in the campaign, teachers must take relevant group photos or printscreens and share their stories and best practices on the reporting platform, where their projects will be assesed by a jury – ten teachers will ultimately receive prizes that will help them in their further digital activities.
In the second component, children and teenagers can use the newly obtained knowledge and also their personal experience to take part in a video-creation competition. This contest awards ten of the most original, complex and artistically developed videos. These 3-minute videos reflect on how children feel when they are bombarded with too much information and their personal ways of managing the stress and anxiety associated with overwhelming amounts of news.
The next steps for everyone who wants to learn more and take action can be found on a dedicated section of the Save the Children Romania website which presents an infographic and recommendations regarding the phenomenon of fake news.
Find out more about the work of the Romanian Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.