Combatting fake news with critical thinking

The June 2017 edition of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) bulletin focuses on the highly topical issue of fake news. As always in the work we do in creating a safer and better internet, gaining the perspectives of young people is essential. Here, Ida from Sweden shares her views.

"When it comes to fake news, the most important thing to have is a critical mind. This is important, even if the situation you're in somehow impedes your way of thinking clearly, for example when you're scared or uncertain about something or when it's regarding a topic you don't know much about. In such circumstances, it's even more important to question the information before you and be able to sort out what's right and what's wrong.

"When the terror attack took place in Stockholm in April 2017, lots of rumours and fake news spread online. Some of this "news" wasn't true and created fear among people, including me. This situation is, on one hand, a good example of fake news and how it can result in negative consequences, but it's also an explicit example of when the fear and insecurity caused by it takes the upper hand. When this kind of fear takes hold, we struggle to think critically when we process information, and we often don't think twice regarding how valid the facts are.

"During the attack, I checked news from different news sites constantly and, at the same time, I kind of believed most of the things that I heard or read. When I look back at the situation, I think the reason why I believed almost anything was because I wanted to receive answers because the attack created both fear and insecurity. This is the sort of situation when we believe in fake news, that is to say when we are scared and unaware but also in situations where the stakes are high and when we feel the need for information. This could be when something terrible happens like a terror attack, or during political elections. I think that fake news, for example, can influence political outcomes because of the major impact it has in our daily life. When it comes to our decision making, it's important to listen to other points of view besides your own. But, at the same time, it's important that fake news doesn't interfere in our decision-making processes and lead us to make the wrong decisions.

"It's not only these sorts of situations where we tend to easily believe fake news: when fake news confirms our own bias, for example, we're also more likely to believe it. Due to filter bubbles online, we sometimes only see those things which confirm our existing views. That is harmful, because when we only see things that agree with our one point of view, our decision-making and opinion-making will be made from only one perspective. Even though you might not agree with someone else, it's still important to listening their opinion. If not, you won't be able to see the reasoning behind their opinions and possible ways of changing them.

"To be able to spot fake news, people need education on how they can develop a critical way of thinking to help them be determine if a piece of news or source is plausible and trustworthy, or just a hoax. And, since your internet experience is curated by service providers to fit your interests and confirm your bias, it's even more important to be able to discern what's right from wrong.

"We are taught to think critically at school and it's a big part of all the assignments I do: I need to be able to decide if a source is trustworthy or not. I also adapt the things I learn at school to my everyday life, but I realise I'm not everyone: just because I do it, doesn't mean everyone does. There are now so many people online, from young children to older people, and we can't just assume that everyone possesses a critical way of thinking. Therefore, it's important that everyone knows how to spot fake news.

"I think everyone can benefit from having this short list in mind; I call it "Five steps to spot fake news". I heard these tips in school recently when we listened to a podcast called "Fake news and media literacy" (The Liturgists Podcast, 2017). In it, they mention these five points to help to spot fake news:

  1. Does the site list the author(s) and does it mention the sources that have been used?
  2. Where was the piece of news published? Do you know anything about the site, for example who owns it and what its reputation is?
  3. Is there a date of publication? If the site uses facts, are these dated also?
  4. Are there links to specific sources, for example if the site refers to a specific study, does it mention it by name, name the researcher, etc.? (For example, if I'd mentioned this list but had not included the source, it would have been less trustworthy: you wouldn't have been able to do any background checks to see if the information was real or not. I could just have made everything up, to make you believe in something that would have benefitted me!).
  5. Is the text well written or are there any red flags like bad grammar, incorrect use of capitalisation, and so on?

"Today, everyone can be a news reporter on social media; it's a place where we all can share news and information quickly. While there are both positive and negative consequences to this, fake news is a definite downside. That's why it's important that everyone learns to have a critical way of thinking and be media literate."

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.

About the author:

Ida, Swedish youth ambassador

Ida (16) goes to school in Sweden where she works with the internet every day. In 2014, Ida represented her country in the youth panel at the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) in Brussels and, following that, became a youth ambassador. Ida thinks it's important to listen to what youth all over the world has to say about the internet, because it's such a big part of our lives. She feels that the opinions of young people are just as important as those of adults and that both parties working together will achieve the best results.
 


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