A hoax is a false and fabricated story, but one which claims to be true. Sometimes it’s a harmless prank, but other times it can lead to serious consequences that might damage somebody’s life or health.
These hoaxes are carefully designed to grab your child’s attention and incite shock and panic so that they share the information with everyone they know. For instance, this could happen if a story claimed that something, such as a certain food cured cancer when in fact it has no such effects. Hoaxes that threaten your children one day, and turn out to be fake the next, can have mental and emotional impact on adults and childrens.
Why do hoaxes and fake news exist?
There are several reasons why hoaxes and fake stories exist. The less harmful ones can start as a joke and the Internet just gives them more life. The goal of the more elaborate ones is often simply to make money. If you help share a fake news website, the owner of that site can make more money from online ads or by selling products that claim to offer almost magical results.
People who have less experience with the Internet like children might have a more difficult time spotting hoaxes and fake news. There is no reason not to talk about this topic with your children. Don’t wait for another hoax to spread as your child can become a victim of it before you realise it.
Types of hoaxes or fake news
There are five categories collectively referred to as hoaxes or fake news. Some of which are actually fake (disinformation), others down to human error or biases (misinformation). Either way, they all have a very loose connection with the truth and basically sit on a continuum of intent to deceive.
Websites that publish fake news stories as humorous attempts to make fun of the media, but have the potential to fool when shared out of context.
- Misleading news that’s sort of true but used in the wrong context
Selectively chosen real facts that are reported to gain headlines, but tend to be a misinterpretation of scientific research.
- Misleading news that’s not based on facts, but supports an ongoing narrative
News where there is no established baseline for truth, often where ideologies or opinions clash and unconscious biases come into play. Conspiracy theories tend to fall here!
- Intentionally deceptive
News that has been fabricated deliberately to either make money through a number of clicks or to cause confusion or discontent or as sensationalist propaganda. These stories tend to be distributed through imposter news sites designed to look like ‘real’ news brands, or through fake news sites. They often employ videos and graphic images that have been manipulated in some way.
Here are some tips which parents can teach their children on how to identify a hoax.
- Help your child investigate the authenticity
Use the opportunity to educate your child about these online challenges. When you hear about one, go online with your child and investigate. This is the perfect opening to help your child understand fake content online. Explain why someone would want to start a hoax to scare people (for example, to achieve fame).
- Examine the evidence
Most shared hoaxes and fake news always include some visual “proof,” like a photo or a video. Show your children how to zoom into an image and look for visual clues like street or shop signs, car license plates, or billboards.
A great tool is reverse image searching. There are several search engines, including Google, and dedicated websites where you simply upload or paste a link to an image and the result shows you where the picture has been used. Sometimes the result will lead you directly to a website that collects information on hoaxes and fake news.
- Tune your skepticism antenna
Most parents want their children to behave well and to do what they or other responsible adults say. But before you allow your children to use the Internet and social media, you should teach them to exercise a healthy level of skepticism. Emphasise that not everything that an adult, family member, or friend has shared on the Internet is automatically true.
There are many accounts on social media that specialise in sharing hoaxes and fake news. These can be bots or operated automatically by algorithms. Show your children how to spot them. Illustrate this to your children by showing them the timelines of some suspicious social media accounts.
4. Practice what you preach
As with everything, children tend to mirror their parents’ behavior. If you don’t want your children to believe in hoaxes, or share them then do not share them yourself at home or on the Internet. If you have done so by accident, explain to them that it was a mistake, why it was a hoax and why you fell for it. With open communication, you can help your children to learn from the good and bad of the adults around them, including you.
It can be difficult for both adults and children to always know whether something they have seen online is true. The online space is always changing. Keeping you and your children safe online involves being aware of emerging and new safety issues and committing to a bit of research before you panic.
“Fake news is like ice, once it comes in contact with the heat of the truth it melts quickly and suddenly evaporates.” – Oche Otorkpa