Educating children about digital disinformation. It's a conversation that should start early on, Source: Depositphotos

Media education: teaching children to recognize disinformation

Media education: teaching children to recognize disinformation

Raising children to be informed citizens has a lot to do with how we approach the issue of digital info noise

Did you know that Media education is part of the education system in the Republic of Croatia and is carried out as part of Croatian language classes? The emphasis of children's media education is placed on film and theatre arts, but issues of message transmission via television, radio and newspapers are also addressed.

However, it’s become clear that educating kids about the advantages and disadvantages of mass media and ensuring safe Internet browsing has not fulfilled its full potential to withstand the impact of disinformation on them. It’s a good start but education based on film, theatre and traditional media is by no means sufficient to ensure children’s media literacy because the focus is on means that are not used as much these days by the young generations.

Hence, it would be necessary to understand the psychology of children who do not know fear and bravely explore the Internet, which is often their first and only source of information. Given that the education system does not do enough to teach about the pitfalls of the media and social networks, the importance of the parental role comes to the fore.

Parents should constantly familiarize themselves with media content and teach their children to check the information they find on the Internet in a way that enriches them, rather than confuse them. It is also important to build a child's critical thinking skills so that they can distinguish true from false information and recognize the deeper foundations of the topics they are reading or researching.

Fostering responsible digital citizens

UNICEF points out that training in critical reading and thinking skills can help children determine truthful information. The organization also advises that children develop critical thinking skills even in non-digital contexts.

We live in a culture of digital participation where everyone has the opportunity not only to read but also to create content. For parents, the novelty of technology can arouse fear and insecurity, which is why they often forbid their children from using social networks. The problem is this approach only fosters more curiosity about social media.

Rather than instilling fear, parents should see this as an opportunity to raise responsible digital citizens who will be able to spot false information and proactively check the accuracy of the content they consume.

Can critical thinking be taught? A useful method

The veracity of the information available in the mass media should be regulated by law, but the excessive power of the media in practice is difficult to control, therefore it is necessary to adopt certain guidelines to ensure that children, and anyone else for that matter, can distinguish between true and false information.

For instance, the non-profit website Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development recommends that you review all information, face the facts, think before you click, encourage healthy scepticism, and use other fact-checking sources and sites.

It also emphasizes that it is necessary to be aware that if one source is credible for one topic, it does not necessarily mean that it is credible for every topic and that it is necessary to be open to studying all the facts, not only those that agree with one’s personal opinions and attitudes.

In short, children can be introduced to a simple three-part method of dealing with new information: read, check, and wait. If a story seems too good to be true or you are not sure whether it is true or false, wait a few days to see what others are saying about it.

Provide children with access to reliable information

It is important to provide children with access to reliable information in order to have a balanced view of the world around them, form a realistic view of different parts of society, accept different points of view and develop critical thinking.

Finally, Internet Matters reports that teachers are finding that their students are more informed about misinformation issues than they think and are developing critical digital literacy that involves thinking about the content they read, share and create. Given this research, it's easy to conclude that children are already ahead when it comes to finding their ways of dealing with new info. It is only necessary to encourage and support children to perfect and improve the acquired skills so that they can become media-literate citizens with freedom and responsibility.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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