The Circuit: False Information


Social media has become an integral part of our lives, and it’s no surprise that even young children are drawn to it. However, with 47% of children aged 5-11 having their own social media profiles, there’s a need to educate them about the potential risks and how to think critically about the information they encounter online. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of media literacy for children and provide practical tips for parents.

False information, often referred to as “fake news”, comes in different forms. Essentially, there are two different types: Misinformation and Disinformation. Misinformation is false information that people share because they genuinely believe it’s true. It spreads unintentionally. Disinformation is intentionally false information shared with a motive. It can be used to make sales, influence beliefs, or gain views and engagement.

This subject forms an important part of our digital literacy curriculum at The Abbey, and from a very early age we begin teaching our students to be sceptical inquirers when it comes to information on the internet. As they develop digital literacy skills,  we teach them to become aware of different forms disinformation can take. For example:

Fake Papers (Imposter News Sites): These websites mimic traditional newspapers but often showcase manipulated images and videos.

Click-Baiters: Posts, articles, or videos with dramatic headlines designed to grab attention. They may promise unbelievable results or free items.

Bad Ads: Advertisements containing scams or false claims.

Headliners: Sensationalist headlines that encourage sharing without reading the full story.

Populists: Politicians or public figures willing to use fake news stories to gain support.

Satire/Comedy Sites: While harmless, these sites can fool people into believing fictional content is real.

Misleading Content: Articles or news stories that distort facts to serve a particular agenda.

Bots: Fake profiles on social media created to spread automated fake news.

Deepfakes: Videos using technology to replicate a person’s facial movements and voice, often impersonating high-profile individuals.

Phishing: Imposter emails, texts, or websites pretending to be reputable organisations to collect personal information.

Sock Puppets Accounts: Accounts using fake identities to manipulate public opinion.

All these examples we have encountered as adults, and I expect the large majority of us had to learn to navigate them by ourselves, possibly making the odd slip-up on the way. But these problems are constantly evolving and we are arguable in a ‘post-truth’ world. So how do we give our students the tools to navigate these increasingly choppy waters? Well, as mentioned earlier much of this does form the digital literacy education we provide at the Abbey from an early age, but having a combined home-school approach is more effective. Teaching digital literacy to children takes time, but it’s crucial for their digital well-being. Here are some practical steps that you could take at home:

Cross-reference. A technique we begin teaching in Lower I. The next time your daughter needs to do some research online, encourage her to verify information from at least two different sources before accepting it as true. If unsure, they should discuss it with you, or their teacher.

Talk regularly about news. Ask your child about popular news stories and where they found the information. As we edge closer to significant elections in both the UK and US, it is increasingly important to guide young people to reliable news sources.

Above all, remember that media literacy is an ongoing (and never-ending) process and the key is maintaining an open dialogue. By empowering children with critical thinking skills, we can help them navigate the digital world more effectively.

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