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Teach kids how to avoid being tricked by disinformation

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Do your kids know how to spot disinformation online? Do you?

Disinformation is false information (misinformation) that is deliberately put out to trick, mislead, or confuse people. The difference between misinformation and disinformation is that disinformation is intentionally spread.

Disinformation and misinformation, easily spread on the internet and social media, are polarizing communities, tearing families apart, and threatening our democracy. Fake news can be generated even more quickly and easily now thanks to artificial intelligence.

But even if you already know that disinformation exists, how do you distinguish it from legitimate information? And how do you make sure your kids don’t get tricked?

It helps to know some of the techniques that bad actors commonly use to trick and manipulate people. This is an effective way to warn kids and teens about disinformation, because they really don’t like to be tricked!

Review the following tactics with your kids, and dig into these other media literacy basics for families.

Educate your kids about these disinformation tactics

Extremists and political propaganda groups who are trying to circulate disinformation use certain strategies to make themselves sound more convincing — which causes more people to pay attention to and spread their misleading message.

However, the more familiar you are with these common manipulation tactics, the more empowered you will be to stand against them and prevent further spread of disinformation. Kids and teens need to be aware of these strategies as soon as they have access to the internet and social media!

Cherry-picking: False claims will frequently use a fact or image completely out of context as “evidence.” For example, a graph from a news story that is several years old being used as “proof” for a current debate.

Scapegoating: Blaming one person or group for a big, complex societal problem is a common tactic used throughout history and today.

Negative emotions: Be aware of words that make you feel strong emotions like fear, anger, or disgust. If you take out those words, does the argument stand as strong?

False dilemmas: When two extreme options are presented as if they’re the only choices, it’s called a false dilemma or false dichotomy. For example, “If you don’t vote for X party, you’re un-American.”

Incoherence: When the same commenter uses different arguments that don’t agree with each other, it’s often a sign that someone is coming into a discussion to deliberately try to confuse and distract people.

Too-easy solutions: Extremists and propagandists will often claim to have a simple fix for a very complex problem or set of problems. They know that people (particularly young people) are struggling to make sense of the many crises in the world today, and they offer an “easy” way out.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.