Fake news is everywhere, it’s hard to spot and it’s becoming dangerous for young people.
The terms fake news and misinformation refer to misleading, false, and deceptive information spread or reported online. The prevalence of this type of disingenuous information is growing. Between 2015 and 2018 there was a 22% increase in rulings made by the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the wrongful use of fake news or ‘breaches of accuracy’. Worryingly, the growth of fake news has not been accompanied with an increased ability to identify it, a recent study found that only 2% of young people in the UK have the skills to tell if the information they read online is real or fake. The full effects of exposure to rampant misinformation is not yet fully known, but we have already witnessed many of the dangerous situations it has the power to create.
In 2021, misinformation spread mainly on Twitter about the American presidential election led to a large group of armed civilians storming the United States Capitol building in which five people lost their lives. This week, Brazil suffered a similar fate after thousands of protesters ransacked the Brazilian Congress building refusing to accept that the previous president, Bolsonaro, had lost the election. Fake news and conspiracies circling on Twitter pushing the idea that the election was rigged have been pointed to as a possible cause for this incident. This comes only a few months after Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, laid off staff in Brazil whose role was to tackle misinformation. Whilst these situations are alarming, they can often feel far away, yet the problems caused by internet stars such as Andrew Tate could be happening inside your home, most likely with your teenage sons.
Andrew Tate, a popular and prolific British digital star who has cultivated a large following by promoting sexist views and sharing misinformation, has recently been arrested in connection with a human trafficking investigation in Romania. There was significant outrage about his arrest and subsequently, fake news stories were spread depicting his release, which has not happened. These stories were started and shared by his 4 million followers on Twitter, who are overwhelmingly young men and teenage boys.
A UK mother believes her son was radicalised by Tate’s content
The Guardian stated, before Tate’s arrest, that his views and conspiracy theories, which have been described as extreme misogyny by domestic abuse charities, are ‘capable of radicalising men and boys to commit harm offline’. A UK mother, who spoke to the BBC, believes her son was radicalised by Tate’s content, she said that her son sees Tate as ‘a man that is strong and powerful and has made lots of money’ not as someone profiting off extreme views and misinformation. Jane believes that everything her son is absorbing from Tate is undoing years of good parenting and caused him to take part in an incident at his school where a group of boys were trying to make a female teacher ‘squirm’ by repeating Tate’s sexist content.
Fake news can feel like a new problem but back in 2014, the World Economic Forum listed the rapid spread of misinformation as one of the top ten perils of society. Misinformation and fake news are dangerous because people can:
make money from advertising on sensationalised and eye-catching posts, for example, articles claiming famous actors are dead when they are not
use it to promote ideas and beliefs about organisations, companies, or ideologies that can lead to radicalisation
incite violence or hate crimes that manifest as cyber-bullying or real-life actions
use it to undermine experts and ruin people’s trust in the mainstream news
create a digital culture of dishonesty and mistrust
Because of evolving capabilities and underdeveloped brain functioning, children are very vulnerable to fake news as they cannot adequately distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, stories, and information. In 2018, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy conducted research that found that two-thirds of teachers think that misinformation is so prevalent it is damaging children’s mental health and increasing anxiety levels.
Problems caused by internet stars such as Andrew Tate could be happening inside your home, most likely with your teenage sons.
Having conversations with children and young people about fake news and misinformation is critical in helping them understand it as a problem and something they must be aware of. Social media sites where anyone can gain large platforms and followings very quickly, such as TikTok, are amplifying dangerous voices who rely on promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories to gain attention, much like Andrew Tate (who has garnered over 11.6 billion views on TikTok).
Children and young people must have access to truthful reliable information so that they can have a balanced and realistic understanding of the world they live in. They also must also be able to protect themselves from sharing fake news and amplifying the problem inside their own digital spaces, by being able to spot and avoid it.
It is important that we talk to the children and young people we know about questioning what they see online and encourage them to go looking for evidence of accuracy.
Helpful resources to use when having conversations with your children about misinformation:
A BBC Bitesize video with advice on tips to give your kids to spot fake news: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zmvdd6f Games to help children learn:
Google’s ‘Interland’ game which teaches younger children how to check fake news in their ‘Reality River’ game: https://beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com/en_us/interland/reality-river
A Dutch fake news game: https://www.getbadnews.com/en/intro
A game to help you learn how to investigate the truth in online content: https://ftp.firstdraftnews.org/articulate/2020/en/OVC/story_html5.html
Reliable fact-checking websites: