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More Than Half of American Kids Say They Can't Spot Fake News

Mar 08, 2017

Kids have more access to news and information than at any time in history. Many of them carry a constantly updating digital device in their pockets and refer to it dozens of times a day. But most of them say they're not confident about what news is real and what isn't, according to a new survey from the U.S. non-profit Common Sense Media.

Fewer than 45% of American kids, ranging in age from 10 to 18, said they could accurately spot fake news and almost a third of them admitted that some of the stories they had shared were fake after they had passed them along. About a quarter of the 853 participants, perhaps reflecting wider differences of opinion about what is and isn't factual, weren't quite sure if some of the news they had passed along was true or not. Boys, incidentally, were much more likely to say they could spot fake news than girls.

In what may come as a shock to parents, their kids view them as the most trusted and frequent source of information about current affairs. More than 60% of kids said that in the past 24 hours, they had heard about events in the news from parents and teachers— and two thirds of them trusted information from their parents more than any other source.

In less surprising news, there was a big difference between how much news tweens (ages 10 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) consulted the Internet for news. Only a fifth of tweens regularly get their news from social media networks, while almost half of teens do. And while tweens prefer to get their information from parents, teenagers favor social networks by 21 percentage points more than their younger peers do.

Weirdly, social media—which could be defined as just a bunch of friends online—was even more popular than real-life friends as a source of news for teenagers. Similarly, only about 25% of kids put their faith in news organizations to tell them the truth, but even fewer trusted their friends as heralds of good data.

The study, which was conducted via an online questionnaire in January and thus only targeted kids who are online, found that among tweens, YouTube was the most popular social media site overall. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat followed in pretty close formation for the older kids.

As for news content, kids "see serious racial and gender bias," says James P. Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media in the report. About half of the kids say that when African-Americans are in the news they "are more associated with crimes, violence, or other problems."

The study also found that American youngsters don't understand why more of the stories aren't about them. And they feel misunderstood and misrepresented by the media. In that way, at least, they're no different than kids have always been.

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