All of us at some time have been taken in by fake news! Fake forwards, fake news, fake brands, and fake people!
But our teenagers and young children need our support and guidance to understand how to differentiate fake news from real news, fake ads from real facts. Because it is a world that works on fake facts to sell, create communities and create fear.
I recently conducted a workshop for teenagers and their parents on how to verify if any news that they are reading about or have received is fake or real.
It all started with a teenager excitedly telling his friends that the Prime Minister follows him on twitter! His friends had two reactions, one group were in awe of him, ‘Wow! He is followed by the Prime Minister’, another group chanted, ‘faketa hai’ (he is fibbing). And soon the two groups were arguing and almost came to blows.
The school decided to hold a workshop for children and their parents after a lot of fake news about schools closed, airports closed, bandh declared etc. during the recent riots in Mumbai. Parents and teachers all fell prey to fake forwards doing their rounds on WhatsApp.
In my workshop with the group of children and parents, I helped them understand how to differentiate between fake and real news by using a verification process. So where all do we encounter or use a verification process? On your phone, on your email, on your social media accounts, there are passwords. What is aadhar card, pan card, passport? These are verification documents. They help only the real user avail of the services so that fake users cannot get access.
So we must always verify any news in three steps:
1. Who did I get the news from? Is a trusted core group member? So trusted core group members are your parents, siblings, best friends, and teachers.
2. How did they get the news? From where? Was it a forward?
3. Why do I believe it is true? Can I check it on other sources or with other people?
In the example of the child who thought that our Prime Minister was following him on Twitter, we asked the child what makes you believe it is the Prime minister? The child said the profile has his photo, his name. Now, lets ‘verify’ further, how many followers does this profile have? Is there any other profile of our Prime Minister? Check that. How many followers? Which has more? Ask an adult or compare both profiles, which one do you think would be the real one? This is a verification process that starts by asking relevant questions. Go to the source before believing the fake news.
Fake news is floated to create mischief, to create unrest, tension, stress. It is for us to ensure that we are smart to question before we forward or believe. In parents and educator whats app groups a common fake news is about a predator with his photo and a message that says “This man kidnaps from schools, watch out for him.” And such messages always have in bold letters- FORWARD TO AS MANY AS POSSIBLE. Or there will be news about someone needing an organ or blood and it would be going viral pan India. Out of our fear or need to help we respond to these only to realize that they were fake news. And then like the proverbial story of the ‘Boy who cried Wolf’, when we do receive a real cry for help we ignore thinking of it as clutter and fake news.
I then showed them photos of branded goods, watches, bags, jackets, phones, with their logos tweaked a wee bit. Now identify which is the original and which is the fake. This activity helped them understand how to scrutinize and verify before accepting something as real.
At this point a young teenage girl stood up and said, “Ma’am, there is a news channel that does a viral sach”, to verify all WhatsApp news. The girl’s comment meant that she and the group have now understood that news received as a forward or not from a trusted source can be fake and needs a verification process before believing the same.
Our young children and adolescents use the net; social media and can get taken in by fake profiles, fake news, and fake people. It is for us to ensure that we teach them how to differentiate between the real and the fake and when to differentiate. It is important for us and our young children to understand that everything that is printed, in a photo or in a video need not be real or correct. Remember Photoshop?
And this is what is most difficult for children to understand, they assume that anything that comes on TV, News, on Google search is real, but well times have changed and with it have sadly changed the moral values of many sites, channels and ads.
Teach verification to children, teach it to yourself too, and don’t forward anything till you are not sure. Don’t be in a hurry to forward, or accept friends on social media. Children learn by imitation so give them good habits to imitate.
I have taken this a step further and included it for our early years program, now each class has a password, a word that is chosen every day by the class and if you want to enter the class then you have to give the password to enter. A fun and early starting point for children to grow up understanding about verification.
Let us create a real world for our children.
Dr.Swati Popat Vats