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Fake news: more training and resources needed to prevent damage to children’s confidence and trust

Fake news

A startling new report finds just 2 per cent of children and young people have the right skills to identify if a news story is real or fake. On top of that two thirds of teachers see fake news harming children’s self-esteem and confidence, damaging their perception of the world.


The BBC is reporting two stories shared on social media by teenagers who thought were real stories were in fact fake.

Chloe, 13, shared a story about the alleged death of actor Sylvester Stallone.

“I thought it was real and shared it with family members. A lot of people were quite upset,” she says.


Chloe felt very stupid when the truth emerged that Sylvester Stallone was in fact very much alive and well. She added “I should have looked into it a bit more before posting.”

13 year old Mitch came across a story about a missing airliner boarded full of passengers had been found. Like Chloe, he reposted it and several of his friends did the same. However, shortly after, it became clear the story was fake, pictures were old which had been reposted.

Now 16, he says he still remembers how upset he was “To find it wasn’t true and the families hadn’t found their loved ones.” He says he felt shocked, foolish and embarrassed.


As children get older, the ability to spot fake news appears to decline, as when 2,220 children aged eight to 16 were asked to identify which of six news stories were fake and which were real, just 3.1 percent of primary pupils and 0.6 percent of secondary students were able to identify all correctly.

One Year 9 pupil said “It makes me not trust the news as much, making me not want to read more because I don’t, I can’t trust it, as such, and it’s quite off-putting because you don’t just know.”

According to a report from a group of MPs these children are not alone, “Falling for fake news can harm children’s “wellbeing, trust in journalism and democracy itself.”


fake news


The National Literacy Trust who conducted the report showed more than 2,000 UK eight to 16-year-olds six news stories, two of which were fake, and asked them to identify which were real and which were not.

Only 2 per cent got all six right.

Of the children questioned in the survey:

  • Almost half were worried about their inability to tell which stories in their social media feeds were false and which were real
  • Almost two-thirds said fake stories made them trust the news less
  • TV is still the most popular source of news according to the survey
  • Three quarters watch TV news and 80% say they trust it
  • Almost half listen to radio news and 75% say they trust it


However, almost half of the secondary age pupils said they got news from social media, particularly Snapchat, and only about a quarter trusted what they read there.

All of this contributes to a culture of fear and uncertainty among young people, says the report.


Lucy Powell MP, who chairs the group, said the findings highlighted “a dangerous lack in the literacy skills that children and young people require to navigate our digital world and identify fake news”.

“This is causing them to mistake false news for fact, become anxious as they believe misleading stories, and risk exposure to malign agendas,” she added.


Presenter Mariella Frostrup said the report was “an important reminder of the need to equip young people with confidence and skills to chart their own cautious course through the acres of fake news and propaganda.”

Half of teachers surveyed explicitly teach critical literacy, and 29 per cent of those who teach it do so very often.

According to the report, an “updated framing of literacy skills, and indeed critical literacy skills, that reflects the changing digital landscape is now required”, with emphasis on core skills including reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as comprehension and inference. However, this needs to come from the government, and can’t be achieved without extra training, time and resources for teachers.


Head teachers’ leaders warned against putting additional demands on schools.


Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools once again found themselves “on the front line of trying to provide a solution to a society-wide issue.”

He said critical literacy was already taught through subjects including English and history and online safety in personal, social and health education.

“We would like to see more action from online platforms to prevent the proliferation of fake news stories in the first place.”

And Nick Brooke, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called for protected time on the curriculum for non-exam subjects.

“Yes, we need to teach grammar and spelling, but we also need to instil a thirst for knowledge, a love of reading and the critical literacy skills that enable young people to make informed decisions as to what to believe and what to ignore.”


Mitch and his fellow sixth formers at St Michael’s Catholic School in High Wycombe are keen to see better regulation of social media companies and would like it to be easier for people to report fake news stories and have them taken down.

June 13, 2018