How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy)

How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy)

Clickbait, hyper-partisan opinion, and completely false information are running wild across the internet.

Common Sense Media logoSierra Filucci
Common Sense Media
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of Two

This just in! Breaking news! You don’t want to miss THIS!

If you get your news online or from social media, this type of headline sounds very familiar. What’s real? What’s fake? What’s satire? Now that anyone with access to a phone or computer can publish information online, it’s getting harder to tell. But as more people go to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and other online sources for their news and information, it’s even more crucial that all of us — especially kids — learn to decode what we read online.

fakenewsThere’s so much fake news online that Google and Facebook are starting to actively crack down on publishers of false or misleading news. But ad-supported networks are in somewhat of a bind, since they get money when users click on these stories — so the crazier the headline, the more money they make. Most kids and teens get their news from their feeds, so they need to learn how to view stories critically (and they should learn that skill anyway!). Even little kids can start to think about some key media-literacy questions. And as kids get older, parents can help kids become more sophisticated critical thinkers. (If your kid’s school is tackling media-literacy issues, consider sharing this with their teachers.)

Here are a few basic questions to consider whenever you and your kids encounter a piece of media:

  • Who made this?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
  • Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
  • What is left out of this message that might be important?
  • Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?

(Thanks to Project Look Sharp for these questions.)

Older kids especially might enjoy learning tricks to spot fake news. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with “lo” or “” — these are often trying to appear like legitimate news sites, but they aren’t.
  • Look for signs of low quality, such as words in all caps, headlines with glaring grammatical errors, bold claims with no sources, and sensationalist images (women in bikinis are popular clickbait on fake news sites). These are clues that you should be skeptical of the source.
  • Check a site’s “About Us” section. Find out who supports the site or who is associated with it. If this information doesn’t exist — and if the site requires that you register before you can learn anything about its backers — you have to wonder why they aren’t being transparent.
  • Check Snopes, Wikipedia, and Google before trusting or sharing news that seems too good (or bad) to be true.
  • Consider whether other credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
  • Check your emotions. Clickbait and fake news strive for extreme reactions. If the news you’re reading makes you really angry or super smug, it could be a sign that you’re being played. Check multiple sources before trusting.

(Thanks to Professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College for some of these tips.)

SierraFilucciAbout Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women’s and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley,… Read more

View all posts by Sierra Filucci here.

This post was originally posted by Common Sense Media on 11/16/16.

Common Sense MediaAbout Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, visit us at

15 Comments on “How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy)”

  1. i have been wondering how to talk to my 9 year old about this not i have more than enough information to help

  2. I always go to when I doubt the authenticity of something I’ve seen or read online. Very good article and informative!!

  3. I like that they are cracking down on false news. I try to inform my kids about things on the Internet not to believe everything they read. Good to make ours kids aware. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Leeanee. We’re glad to hear that this is already something you talk to your kids about!

  4. Great post…. this is definitely an issue especially with the kid’s being asked to use the internet for their school work these days.

  5. Major point that we need especially since we saw the lies and slander that happened both sides during the election with social media. We need to let our kids know just because it looks like a news site does not mean it is.

  6. This is extremely helpful to help me explain the best ways to trust tech news to my 10year old son when he’s using the computer. He sometimes gets upset when I tell him he cant watch certain things but now maybe he’s understand better why. Thank you for this post!

  7. It’s so easy to get caught up in fault news ,seems to be more and more of it. No one can protect us only ourselves so give kids the know how to beaware and protect themselves.

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