Helping Kids Sift Through Virus Misinformation

As news about the growing coronavirus pandemic changes by the minute, everyone is struggling to stay informed – including tweens and teens whose favorite information sources may not always be accurate. 
“I think right now there is a firehose of information coming at all of us, and it can be really hard to sort fact from fiction,” says Sierra Filucci, editorial director of Common Sense, a San Francisco-based national nonprofit. “One thing we know about teenagers in particular is that they get most of their news from YouTube, social media and sources that most adults don’t consider to be credible.”
Filucci, an Alameda mom of two teens, says the current crisis can be an opportunity to talk to kids about media literacy and help them be better educated and more skeptical about news they see online.
“It’s sort of hard to discern the sources of everything when you’re just scrolling” through your phone, she says. “There might be valid information from the (Centers for Disease Control) or World Health Organization or county or state resources. But mixed in will be people making jokes or people trying to scare people or get a rise out of people.”
“It’s a time when we really need to practice news and media literacy and be extra vigilant about identifying sources and fact-checking, especially before you share anything. … When we’re talking about something as serious as coronavirus, we all have a responsibility to keep an eye out for other people and be a good digital citizen. Repeating misinformation can be harmful at a time like this,” she adds.
Filucci offers the following advice for parents:
• Talk to your children about the information they’re seeing. Ask questions: Who made this? Is it a piece of news or an advertisement? What is the purpose? Are they trying to give you information or convince you of something?
Talk about the news sources you use. “Focus on sources that are credible and that follow respected journalistic practices, and share those with your kids,” she says. Talk about the difference between investigative reporting and an opinion piece, or satire and something designed to trick a reader.
• Teach them to be wary of first-person social media accounts. While you can absolutely trust a post from someone you know – like Filucci’s friend who shared a photo of being the only person on a subway train in Brooklyn – beware of the first-person account from “a doctor in Italy.” “It’s really important to be skeptical,” she says. 
Common Sense has developed a digital literacy curriculum which is used in schools throughout the country. Lessons, games, activities and resources can be found on their website here.
Overall, though, Filucci says adults often don’t give kids enough credit for being savvy media consumers.
“They’ve grown up with this,” she says, “and many have developed a critical lens that many older adults don’t have.”

Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.


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