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How to Help Kids Identify Fake News About the Coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak has captured the world’s attention — and its headlines. Over the past few months, your students may have shared coronavirus information that they heard from friends or read online. But some of these stories might not be true. Maybe you’ve heard a few of these fake “facts” that have been floating around recently:

  • Hot Weather Kills the Virus: False! The World Health Organization (WHO) said the coronavirus can spread in all climates. Hot weather doesn’t take care of the problem — and neither does cold.
  • There’s an Easy Cure for Coronavirus: Not true! Internet memes and videos have been touting ridiculous coronavirus “cures.” Aiming a blow-dryer at your face will not kill the coronavirus. Ingesting colloidal silver will not fight off the disease. And gargling salty water will not get rid of the germs. At best, these lies can lead to a false sense of protection. At worst, they can lead to reckless behavior.
  • Dolphins Have Returned to Venice Canals: Nope! Some stories said that because people are staying inside, dolphins are returning to the canals of Venice, Italy. But researchers from National Geographic debunked that myth. It turns out the dolphins from the photographs were 500 miles away in Sardinia.

Kids need our help to develop their media literacy skills. In these unprecedented times, it can be even more difficult to help students distinguish fact from fiction. Whether you are a teacher leading remote instruction or a parent trying to keep your child informed about the outbreak, try these four tips to combat fake news about the coronavirus.

  1. Encourage Kids to Check the Source
    Suppose a few kids mention a “fact” they read about the coronavirus. Ask them to think of where they heard the news. Was it from a trustworthy newspaper? Or was it just passed on from a friend or a stranger online? Show students that news journalists must undergo a rigorous fact-checking process before publishing a story, whereas anyone can post on Twitter or Facebook. Point out which social media channels are verified and trustworthy. Be sure students know that information on social media is often not reliable.
  2. Teach Kids to Look for Proof Within News Stories
    News articles should show where their information comes from. For example, this story mentions the World Health Organization, with a hyperlink to the organization. The global U.N. agency is at the forefront of stemming the outbreak and keeping the public informed, so students can trust its facts. The more that a news story relies on primary sources and empirical data, the more likely it is to be truthful.
  3. Show Why a Second Opinion Matters
    It’s important that students don’t read just one source and believe it is true. Instead, they should check if other news groups are saying the same thing. If several trustworthy news outlets are sharing the same facts, it is more likely to be accurate.
  4. Direct Students to News Sources They Can Trust
    Kids might not know where to go for trustworthy news sources that are also age-appropriate. That’s why it helps to give them a starting point, especially when they aren’t in school. Provide a list of news sources that kids can access from home. You can start with recommendations from Common Sense Media’s list of reliable news sources for kids

Media literacy always matters, but it is especially important in times of crisis. What are some other strategies you use to teach kids about fake news?


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