Varda Meyers Epstein | Kars4Kids Guest Author
It is only natural for children to ask about fake news, since the term is just now part of our popular culture. Several fake news stories went viral during the 2016 election cycle and President Donald Trump often uses the phrase. The truth is that fake news, in which phony news stories are served up as the real deal and spread by the masses, have been around a long time.
One recent example of a fake news story that went viral is the claim that Barack Obama banned assault rifles in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Massacre. Read the Snopes article about the supposed ban with your child, following the link to Executive Order 13691. Ask your child how and why the story went viral. Talk about how people were feeling after what happened in Orlando. Ask your child to imagine how many people would have checked the executive order to see if the claims of the fake news story were true. Would your child have checked the executive order or accepted the claim on faith? How will your child read a news story in the future?
Children will want to know why anyone would deliberately spread a fake news story. The simple answer is that a fake news story is generally spread in order to gain political points or to make money. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has an easy to understand explanation and history of the blood libel, among the earliest examples of fake news stories spread only to create panic and foster hatred of one people, the Jews.
Sometimes the purpose of a fake news story is simply to see how many people can be tricked. Listen to Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast, War of the Worlds, with your child. The broadcast begins as a series of news bulletins interrupting a radio program and details a Martian invasion. Aired before social media and television existed, the radio broadcast sowed panic followed by fury when listeners discovered the hoax. Ask your child to imagine that world and the impact of the broadcast.
A more modern fake news story originates in a tweet and has a post office worker destroying ballots for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Ask your child to guess the purpose of this fake story. What made the story seem real? How was the hoax exposed?
Because fake news is spread so easily, children need to be taught to approach every news story with a critical eye. Show your child examples of copycat websites alongside the real deal such as ABC.com.co and ABC, to demonstrate how graphics contribute to the strength of a fake news story. Ask your child to tell you which website is the real ABC website.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has created a terrific downloadable chart illustrating 8 simple steps one can take to verify a news piece. Discuss these steps with your child. Print out the chart and have your child hang it over his or her desk for easy reference. But even a very young child can learn critical thinking skills, for instance the difference between fact and opinion, with the awesome free critical thinking activities offered at Jumpstart.
SmartFeed's Current Events Playlist for "real news" resources for kids
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Author: Varda Meyers Epstein
12 kids (8 boys, 4 girls, aged 16-36)