The internet is a beautiful place. It is the way we communicate, the way we create, and the biggest business platform that has ever been generated. However, it is also a hazard, as anyone can put anything on it, and it’s extremely difficult to tell fact from fiction…especially if you are a kid.

A Stanford study looked at the ability, or inability in this case, of almost 8,000 students to tell fake news stories from real ones. The results, to be blunt, are terrible. When focusing on the students who were in middle school, 80 percent of them were unable to tell the fake news from the real stories, and they didn’t get better as they got older. When the researchers looked at high schoolers, they really fared no better, and more than 80 percent of them accepted that fake pictures were true without question. The results of this study should scare us all.

Part of the problem here is that we don’t have enough gatekeepers to fact check, edit, or vet the news that is going out there. Anyone with a computer can create a very realistic looking news site, and essentially, they can create stories about whatever they want. As you have probably noticed during the election, many adults also get caught up in the fake news that’s out there, and if adults can’t discriminate between what’s real and what’s fake, how can we expect children to?

The writers who create these fake news stories are very skilled, and when you put them up against the minds of others, especially children, it’s really not a fair fight. These students have to be taught how to use the internet, and it has to be soon. Kids are using the internet as young as two or three years old, and by the time they get to school, they can navigate the pages of the web better than many adults.

Speaking of school, how does the concept of internet literacy fit in with the typical curriculum in schools? Internet literacy, online behavior, reputation management, security and fake news are part of the same puzzle.

When computers first began to be commonplace in schools, most students took a class to learn how to use the mouse, keyboard, and basic programs. Now, these acts are usually learned before a child even gets to school, and the classes that are taught teach kids how to not only work a computer, but also how to be a good online citizen. The problem is, however, is that these classes are not given the same focus as other educational standards.

Further complicating things is that many teachers believe that teaching these concepts is not their responsibility. Instead, they believe that it is the job of others, such as the librarian, teacher’s assistant, or IT person.

If students are taught to consider what the intentions of the writer, or even the sources are, they will be able to eventually learn to sense the bias they have. When children can understand this concept, they can then learn about how news and other information gets from the writer to the readers. The internet creates a totally new concept for how news travels, and we all must recognize that when we click, we ultimately create a trail for more information to follow.

Will this new instruction be enough? We have reason to have hope. For instance, some social media outlets, such as Facebook, have recently announced that they will take steps to eliminate a lot of this fake news. Additionally, if we look at the history of humanity, when new innovations are introduced, such as when the printing press was invented, we, as humans, saw improvements in our lives.

It is also quite promising that children are not making the same mistake that their parents have made…they aren’t on Facebook much, which is where most of these fake news stories are found. Instead, children are in Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat and others. This information has been backed by a number of sources, and one study shows that teens are not using Facebook for their news. Instead, they are getting news from television or on Snapchat, which has recently rolled out a news delivery feature.

The bottom line here is that the original study from Stanford is disheartening, but there is a glimmer of hope since kids these days aren’t getting their news from the same places as the previous generation, like Facebook. Instead, they are using a mixture of traditional and digital sources that will likely help them to become more informed.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

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Comment by Akbar on April 4, 2017 at 4:48am

Great article and very informative. Good reminder too.

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