At its best, YouTube and other social media sites are great ways to connect with friends, stay informed about current events, and learn new skills. YouTube, in particular, is well-known for how-to videos and educational chats.
But here’s the thing: anyone can start a YouTube channel or a social media profile.
And from there, they can say whatever they want.
The Spread of Misinformation
In 2015, NBC reported on the spread of false and misleading information following the attacks in Paris. Doctored photos (or photos taken at other times and claimed to have been taken following the tragic event) circulated quickly.
The year before, Time wrote about Ebola rumors that spread far faster than the virus itself:
“Following the first diagnosis of an Ebola case in the United States on Sept. 30, mentions of the virus on Twitter leapt from about 100 per minute to more than 6,000…. In Iowa the Department of Public Health was forced to issue a statement dispelling social media rumors that Ebola had arrived in the state. Meanwhile there have been a constant stream of posts saying that Ebola can be spread through the air, water, or food, which are all inaccurate claims.”
In many cases, Tweets and posts like these are from well-meaning people who want to help and protect their friends and family. Often they re-post without thinking–or, seduced by a headline, without even reading the article.
Too Smart to Fall for a Hoax?
We’d all like to think so, but U.S. News & World Report wrote about “…an experiment in which we learned 72 percent of college students trusted links that appeared to originate from friends – even to the point of entering personal login information on phishing sites.”
That experiment was over a decade ago. Nowadays, there’s an entire industry devoted to misleading the public: “Clickbait sites manufacture hoaxes to make money from ads, while so-called hyperpartisan sites publish and spread rumors and conspiracy theories to influence public opinion.”
The Problem With Spreading False Information
It’s obvious, right? At best, you have a misinformed population. It starts getting worse when people make decisions based on this inaccurate information; it’s even worse when the false information induces unnecessary fear or outrage. And it’s all a giant waste of time because it’s all based on something that wasn’t true, to begin with.
The other problem is that we seem to be losing our ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction. We’re taking opinion as fact. We’re not following up with sources to ensure accuracy. This allows rumor-spreaders (and the sites devoted to it) to flourish.
All Eyes on YouTube
This article outlines a few issues that YouTube has today, and how they’re behind the curve when it comes to combating misinformation:
“In January, star YouTube vlogger Logan Paul sparked a backlash when he published a video showing the dead body of an apparent suicide victim in Japan…. That came as the company was already dealing with a series of reports revealing disturbing cartoons apparently aimed at kids…and another genre of videos depicting children in abusive situations.”
Despite hiring more moderators, quick conspiracy updates and live videos can’t be moderated quickly enough to prevent viewing and sharing.
How to Help Your Children Identify Misinformation
Adults and kids alike can benefit from a refresher course on how to identify false news stories, hoaxes, and unreliable sources.
- Consider the Source: Teach them to look where the news is coming from. If it’s from CNN or the BBC, for example, they can probably trust it to be as close to fact as anyone is aware of at the time the story was written. If they’ve never heard of the website, it might be worth double-checking with a trusted source. They should also notice what kind of content the site regularly posts. If it promotes a specific agenda, the content may not be accurate. This applies to YouTube, as well: is the person giving nutrition advice actually a nutritionist or registered dietitian?
- Do a Search: Snopes regularly checks up on posts and stories that fly through social media. If it seems questionable, look it up on Snopes.
- Fact vs. Opinion: Tell your children to ask themselves, “Can this claim be proven?” If they think so, encourage them to research and find the facts that support it. If they can’t, then they know they’ve uncovered someone’s opinion floated as fact.
- Identify Clickbait: There’s very little that’s truly “mind-blowing.” Clickbait sites regularly use headlines that indicate your life will change if you just read the article or watch the video. Headlines like, “She walks into a store, and you won’t believe what happens next” usually indicate garbage. Teach your kids to avoid clicking on those.
- Google Image Search: A questionable photo can be dragged and dropped into the Google Image search bar, where you’ll be able to see where it originally appeared (to determine whether or not it’s related to the news piece someone says it is). Examine photos carefully for signs of editing, as well–this is even helpful on social media when your kids feel they’re not as beautiful or skinny or talented as the people they follow.
- Share Mindfully: Your children should be encouraged to not share or re-post anything without reading it first and double-checking the accuracy of the information.
- Correct Mistakes: Sometimes, we might accidentally share false information we truly thought was reliable. When you realize it, go back and delete the post and make a second post correcting the error.
- Empower Your Kids: These guidelines aren’t meant to make the internet less fun for them. Instead, it’s giving them the power to stop the spread of misinformation and contribute to a more informed, thoughtful society.
Of course, it’s not just unreliable information you want your kids to avoid: it’s unsavory sites and videos, as well. This is why internet guidelines are essential. Using a trust-worthy parental control makes that easier! Keep an open line of communication about what your children find online–both real and fake. Set time limits the amount of time your children spend on the internet and block the sites and apps you don’t approve of or that your kids simply aren’t ready for.