Students say misinformation abounds online. Experts say critical thinking helps them navigate

Whether it’s young children watching YouTube videos, older kids logging on to games, or teenagers scrolling through TikTok, students today encounter all kinds of content online and often embrace it. simply as a truth, according to 13-year-old Ainara Alleyne.

“I do not think so [younger kids] really know the difference between misinformation, disinformation and real news… It’s just things people say. You don’t really know that people can have hidden agendas or misinterpret different things,” noted the Grade 8 student from Hamilton.

That’s part of why the teenager has joined a growing wave of initiatives in hopes of improving students’ digital literacy and critical thinking skills, so they can better distinguish what’s going on in the middle of the storm of facts and misinformation circulating in the chaotic online spaces that they are. navigate.

“As young people, we’re so used to using social media, things like Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok, and it’s so easy to spread misinformation on those apps — and even misinformation, wherever anyone wants. deliberately spreading misinformation,” said 17-year-old high school student Arjun Ram.

“It’s super important for kids today to understand and be able to decipher what’s real and what’s not.”

WATCH | This video game helps teach kids about online misinformation:

This video game is making kids more savvy online

CBC News Kids has created a video game that’s not just for fun, but designed to help kids navigate and distinguish misinformation online.

Alleyne and Ram are part of Report 101: misinformationa new CBC Kids News initiative designed to teach students in grades 4-8 how to tell fact from fiction, via the ultra-popular, blocky world of 3D games from Minecraft. Launched last week, the new world appeals to players as aspiring journalists investigating a tip: summer vacation has been canceled. Players must find and speak with different sources, verify the information gathered, determine the truth, and write an article based on their research.

“This game will help kids understand that you should care and that it’s important to know where your information is coming from, and it’s important to decipher whether it’s true or not,” Ram said.

Two smiling teenagers wearing purple tops sit in front of a large computer screen showing blocky video game characters.  Colorful wall signage appears behind them.
CBC Kids News reporters Ainara Alleyne, right, and Arjun Ram have avatars to guide students through the new world of Minecraft Reporting 101: Misinformation. “It’s extremely important for kids today to understand and be able to decipher what’s real and what’s not,” Ram says. (Nazima Walji/CBC)

Integrating this type of learning into a space where young people enjoy spending time is an approach favored by Kara Brisson-Boivin, research director at MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit organization focused on digital and media literacy.

“It builds in those educational moments and those opportunities in their game,” she said from Windsor, Ont.

“They are going to take advantage of these educational opportunities all the more because it is already in the online spaces and activities in which they are engaged.”

WATCH | Tips for navigating online spaces amid misinformation:

Tips for avoiding misinformation online

What should students keep in mind when browsing their online feeds? Researchers Timothy Caulfield and Kara Brisson-Boivin and CBC Kids News reporters Ainara Alleyne and Arjun Ram share some tips.

For more than 20 years, MediaSmarts has conducted an in-depth study of the attitudes and behaviors of young Canadians toward digital technology and the Internet. A recent report specifically explored the perceptions and concerns of older teens and young adults regarding misinformation and misinformation on online platforms and communities.

While respondents said they enjoyed the interactive vibe and immersive feeling of their favorite spaces, they also revealed how often they encountered misinformation and misinformation. They are aware of how this type of content is linked to hate online – misogyny, racism, homophobia and more, noted Brisson-Boivin – and young people want to see more transparency, effort and action from the part of decision-makers to fight it, within the platform itself.

“Young people want to be in this space. They love the vibe. They don’t want to have to leave it completely,” she explained, noting the challenge of pausing or stepping back to check information in a other external space or source.

Three app icons on a smartphone screen.
Misinformation is a common occurrence in online communities where young people hang out and they know how it can be linked to online hate, said Kara Brisson-Boivin, the group’s research director. However, since they appreciate the immersive nature of their favorite applications, they want to see the decision-makers of the platforms fight against misinformation within the spaces themselves. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Brisson-Boivin believes that building digital literacy knowledge from an early age is another important approach to combating misinformation, whether students are researching for school or scrolling for entertainment.

“Introducing this as early as possible is absolutely essential. I have a six-year-old [and] we talk quite frequently about the types of content we see online: what’s real and what’s imaginary, how we can know those things,” she explained, noting a recent conversation sparked when they ran into a amazing “upside down waterfall” video.

A few quick internet searches together determined that this was not real, but cleverly crafted images.

“There are home or family lessons and opportunities where you can adopt this with very young children,” Brisson-Boivin said, adding that as students become teenagers and adults, additional approaches can be taken. introduced, e.g. finding the original source, authenticating information through reputable outlets, using fact-checking tools, sites and experts, etc.

“It’s something we all need to continually learn, practice and develop.”

Students “hungry for information”

Famed myth buster Timothy Caulfield agrees, saying it can even be as simple as taking a few seconds to ponder or ponder something you see online. “If you get people to pace themselves, they’re more likely to adopt a critical-thinking perspective, less likely to believe misinformation, less likely to share misinformation,” said the University of Ottawa professor. Alberta and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy. .

“A lot is happening in the moment with the extreme title, this funny meme. But if you just get people thinking and thinking about precision…that action alone can make a difference.”

The best-selling author and popular speaker thinks teaching young children to “put their thinking cap on and really investigate” needs to shift to introducing teens and young adults to more complex approaches exploring “the nature of evidence used” to make arguments.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to children of all ages and they are hungry for information. They recognize this is a problem: they are not naive. They know that the spread of misinformation is a real problem. So they want strategies,” he said in Edmonton.

Rather than turning students into “hyper-skeptics,” he likens teaching students critical thinking to teaching them to think like a scientist: apply reason and examine a body of evidence. He refutes those who believe that this skill-building is just brainwashing anyone. “We’re not talking about content here. We’re talking about giving people skills – neutral skills – that will allow them to go out and assess the information environment.”

Caulfield believes misinformation is “one of the defining issues of our time” and one of the greatest challenges we face today.

“It’s a generational challenge, which means we really need to teach our young people, the children, how to spot and counter misinformation. And that means giving them the skills that will endure over time.”

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