“Fake News” – The New Challenge in Digital Safeguarding

The internet represents an opportunity for learning, connecting and sharing with people all over the world.

When the internet and digital skills are used effectively, they can be an invaluable tool to education professionals in managing behaviour, connecting with students and providing an encyclopaedic style access to materials and games to help children learn. We simply can’t escape its influence.

With unlimited access and opportunity, however, comes challenges. How do we keep children safe online? How do we ensure that children understand that their actions have similar consequences online as they do in the real world? Or how do we ensure that children are accessing information that will help them rather than hinder progress and put them in danger?

These are just a few of the challenges that institutions and organisations such as the Department for Education, NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre are working tirelessly against to protect children from the threats of cyber bullying, sexting and online grooming. Legislation, such as the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 or guidance, including Keeping Children Safe in Education can often protect children from many of the threats online but there is one menace that can only be protected through education and learning: Fake News.

Fake News - More than just a buzzword?

It was the buzzword of 2016 and it doesn’t seem to have any intention of relinquishing its place, with leading figures in global politics - most notably, President Donald Trump - continuing to make reference to this growing phenomenon. But how does an issue affecting the President of the United States affect children in schools across the country?

The UK Safer Internet Centre have recognised that these issues often arise through the growing influence of social media and its ability to provide up-to-the-minute news. The democratisation of media which allows anyone the opportunity to be a "journalist" and find "the latest scoop" is fascinating but also means that children exposed to this news must develop the critical thinking skills to analyse and judge the truth and accuracy of stories or information online.

Some of the challenges that the UK Safer Internet Centre encountered are as follows and can be found listed on their website:

  • Misinformation: it is easy to generate high quality digital content, including editing or misusing images and videos, to create credible fake news. Some fake news stories and sites are "real" looking that even journalists are misled.
  • Viral trends: sensational news travels fast on social media. Driven by likes and shares, "Clickbait" headlines draw people in and are not always what they seem.
  • Information overload: the sheer volume of conflicting information can make it hard to identify high quality information.
  • Targeting and profiling: content appearing on social media newsfeeds is targeted based on who you follow and your interests, but this profiling can reduce exposure to different perspectives. Sometimes people actually choose to ignore views that are not in line with their own.
  • Fake news is big money: fake news can be a money-making business with clicks driving advertising revenue. This means some people deliberately create viral fake news stories for financial gain.”

According to an Ofcom report, certain elements of webpages have a direct effect on the level of trust that young people show towards the content. The use of images and videos can be very influential on young people who are more likely to trust a webpage that uses them. Another insight shows that sites listed on Google carry substantially higher trust levels.

So what’s the solution?

In October 2017, our e-safety expert, Luke Roberts, held an interactive one-day training course on Safeguarding Children in the Digital Environment. It covered traditional threats as well as recognising the impact of new phenomena, including Fake News. There was tips on how to appreciate children’s capacity and perception of online risks alongside clear guidance on ensuring that school IT policies equip children and young people to avoid fake news and rely on trusted sources.

Prevention and resilience are both needed to make sure that fake news remains a political buzzword rather than a growing fear in digital child protection cases. 

If you would like to learn practical advice on safeguarding children from fake news and other digital threats, contact us to speak to a member of our team about this training or to book your place on the next course, please call 0800 542 9440 or email enquiries@moderngov.com.