What is fake news and how can it affect children and teenagers?

Internet access opens up an endless world of interesting things for children and teenagers to discover and, at least in theory, helps them better understand how the world in which we live works. On the other hand, we see daily examples of sites, articles and videos that present social, political and economic events in a style that does not correspond to journalistic principles. 

Date 2022-03-03 Author Romanian Safer Internet Centre Section research Topic cyberbullying, media literacy/education, potentially harmful content Audience children and young people, parents and carers, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals
Person sitting on a bench while reading the newspaper

We must ask ourselves, as parents and education specialists, what are the consequences of fake news on the young generation, what will they understand from what they see online now and, especially, what decisions will they make based on the incorrect or untrue information that reaches them?  

A study, Impact of COVID-19 on children in Romania, conducted in 2020 by Save the Children on a sample of 5,000 children, shows that almost 40 per cent of respondents were affected by false information. Nearly a third of children believe that fake news cannot be shown on TV or on news sites. Half of the children rarely or never check the truth of the information found online. During this period, the main topics that children were stressed about were those that were heavily publicised: the health of family members (fear of death) and the school situation (fear of failure), often accompanied by confusion, anxiety, fear and distrust. 

To better understand what we can do as parents, teachers or specialists who work with children to combat this phenomenon that occurs increasingly frequently on the internet, the Romanian Safer Internet Centre organised an interactive and constructive online debate about the phenomenon of fake news worldwide, and especially in Romania. The speakers included Sorin Costreie (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bucharest, Vice Rector and Adviser to the Prime Minister on education and research) and Florin Grozea (Entrepreneur, Founder of MOCAPP - Influencer Marketing Platform), while the discussion was moderated by Gabriela Alexandrescu (Executive President of Save the Children Romania). The focus was on how it is important to know how to recognise fake news, how to react when you encounter it, and how to better inform ourselves on the matter. 

The discussion was conducted around the following practical topics:  

  • How dangerous is fake news for children and teenagers from a psychological point of view? 
  • What does a well-written news story look like, and how do we recognise those that do not respect the principles of journalism? 
  • Who is responsible for educating children about media consumption? What do parents do? What is the school doing? 

The ability to think critically in the online environment is one of the main digital skills that young people need, but in the Romanian school curriculum activities such as debate and argumentation are not sufficiently encouraged. Therefore, it becomes our joint responsibility to ensure that today we support a generation capable of informing itself correctly and making good decisions, for its own good and for the good of society in general. 

Find out more about the work of the Romanian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe

Related news