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The news right now can be overwhelming for people of all ages. The latest information around COVID-19 is changing every day, and it can be confusing to determine which sources to trust. Young people, who predominantly get their news from social media, may be consuming news sources that are not providing the best, fact-based information. Not to mention, the news may be reporting conflicting information, with federal guidelines around COVID-19 outlining different directives than state, county and city level governments.
While it is impossible to supervise every minute of news your child takes in, encouraging your kids to scrutinize what they see on social media will help them sort through fact and fiction during this time of uncertainty. A good first step is to talk with your kids about the news. What are they hearing? Where are they hearing it? Especially when the news can lead to increased anxiety and stress, it’s important to keep communication open.
The education team at PBS SoCal and KCET partnered with our friends at the L.A. Times High School Insider to share some tips and resources we’ve picked up along the way that can help you talk with your kids about good media literacy practices and help them process their news intake on social media.
Tips for Being Thoughtful News Consumers
Always be skeptical of news shared online. That is sometimes easier said than done. One helpful mnemonic device is to think “SHEEP.” This tool was developed by First Draft to help news consumers quickly evaluate information that comes across social media platforms.
- Source: Identify the creator of the information to see if it has connections to political or ideological groups or is meant to be a parody or satire. Some people and organizations create sites and social media accounts that try to imitate reputable news agencies by using similar logos and URLs, so check these to make sure they are who they say they are.
- History: Check to see what other kinds of information the source has shared in the past to identify if there are patterns of bias.
- Evidence: Take the time to see if there is evidence from verifiable sources that the post’s claim is true.
- Emotion: Evaluate your own feelings as you read the post. If the language seems to tug at your heartstrings, stoke fear or provoke anger, the author might be trying to manipulate you.
- Pictures: Photos and memes can be used to heighten emotional responses from readers. Make sure that pictures or videos are used appropriately and are contextualized within the story.
News vs. Opinion: Many articles shared online are opinion pieces, not news. Trusted news orgs will clearly state an article is an opinion piece. When reading or hearing a news piece, dissect it. Is the author remaining impartial? Or, trying to argue that a particular opinion is right?
Practice Healthy News Habits: It’s definitely good to be updated on the latest news and government directives about the virus, but refreshing your feed constantly or leaving the news on all day will not necessarily leave you and your family more informed. Plus, the constant information can increase stress if you and your kids are already feeling anxious. Practice what you preach, too. Set aside “no news” time during the day when the whole family steps away from their devices.
Think Before You Share: Misinformation online spreads when we share it. Before hitting that share button, think about the article you’re sharing. Does it pass the “SHEEP” test? Will it be useful to my friends and family to share this? Did you read the whole article, or just the tantalizing headline?
Report Fake News: Come across an article that is definitely misinformation? Report it. Take a look at this article from the BBC to find out how to report posts on different social media sites. It can be difficult to address fake news when the source is a friend or family member. In those cases, sometimes it can be helpful to reach out to the poster directly and share why they think the information may be false or misleading and avoid publicly embarrassing them.
Get a variety of news sources: We’ve all heard about the dangers of confirmation bias, and how social media algorithms get us stuck in echo chambers of our own opinions. While it is always good to encourage your children to get their news from multiple sources, that can be especially valuable when information around the health crisis is constantly changing. If a new piece of coronavirus news is upsetting, find other news outlets that corroborate it. Is there more information out there?
Media Literacy Resources
Here are handy tools that can help dispel misinformation about the coronavirus and help you and your children practice media literacy in these uncertain, and confusing times!
For all Ages
- First Draft: The non-profit shared six types of coronavirus misinformation to watch out for.
- Factcheck.org: This site from The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania is a non-partisan project that monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. politicians and officials.
- Poynter: An organization that helps teachers and students with media literacy and the practice of journalism. Their digital literacy project, MediaWise, created a video (with some familiar faces) that outlines how to tell fact from fiction when it comes to COVID-19.
Geared Toward Teens / Younger Audiences
- Above the Noise: This KQED web series is geared towards young people and takes a look at the facts behind current events. The show is currently doing a series of videos focused on COVID-19 topics.
- Take On Fake: This new digital series from WNET is hosted by PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan and debunks claims seen or shared online to show you how to stay informed. A great watch for parents too!
- Informable: A free app from the non-profit News Literacy Project tests and strengthens your news literacy knowledge.
- Student Reporting Labs: This student journalism program run out the PBS NewsHour also has great videos geared towards teens that share good media literacy practices.
Sources for coronavirus coverage
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- PBS NewsHour: Watch PBS’ nightly news program for national updates on the virus. You can watch on your local PBS channel or here.
- Los Angeles Times:The L.A. Times is offering essential coronavirus coverage for free and a daily newsletter straight to your inbox.
- LAist/KPCC: The public media news site, LAist, is continuously updating Your No-Panic Guide to the Coronavirus in L.A. The LAist website is always free to access, and is a great go-to place for up-to-date information on city and state public health safety information.
- KCET and KPCC Reporter Roundup: A five-minute video explaining the biggest headlines of the day. The show airs Monday-Friday every week.