Fake news and disinformation online

Certificate included
Last reviewed on 27 October 2022
Ref: 1988

What's the problem?

Fake news is false or misleading information presented as genuine news.

Your child might have seen fake news online about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There have been examples of old footage being shared as if it's new, or images being manipulated to present a misleading picture about what's happening. There's been lots of misinformation on TikTok in particular. 

Fake news and disinformation have been linked to radicalisation by extremists and attempts to skew people’s world views. For example, extremist narratives relating to coronavirus include:

  • Antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming Jewish people for the spread of the virus or suggesting it’s a ‘Jewish plot’
  • Claims that British Muslims have flouted social distancing rules
  • Anti-Chinese hatred
  • Isis-inspired narratives about how coronavirus is a divine punishment for the ‘sinful behaviours’ of the west
  • Extreme right-wing conspiracies that society is collapsing and far-right groups can accelerate its end

Reading information like this can upset or worry your child unnecessarily. Fake news also helps create a culture of fear and uncertainty, with children trusting reputable news outlets less as a result of fake news.

How can I help my child spot fake news online?

Tell them to ask themselves:

  • What’s the source? Is it a reputable news source, and are mainstream news outlets reporting it too?
  • When was it published? Check the date an article was published, as sometimes old stories are shared on social media. This could be an accident, or it might be to make it look like something happened recently
  • Have you seen anything similar elsewhere? What happens if you search for it on Google or check it using a fact-checking website like Full Fact?
  • Do the pictures look real? Images might have been edited. They might also be unrelated images that have been used with the story
  • Why might this have been created? Could someone be trying to provoke a specific reaction, change your beliefs, or get you to click a link?

Encourage them to read beyond the headline too. Many people share stories having just read the headline, then discover the actual story is quite different.

Point them to the government’s SHARE checklist and advice from Childline too.

What signs of radicalisation should I be alert to?

It’s worth knowing what signs to be alert to, just in case. If you do see these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is being radicalised – it could be nothing at all, or it could be a sign that something else is wrong.

  • Becoming more isolated from friends and family
  • Not being willing or able to talk about their views
  • Becoming more angry
  • Talking as if from a script
  • A sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
  • Being more secretive, especially about their internet use

If you’re worried about your child, contact your child's school and speak to the designated safeguarding lead.

Helping schools get safeguarding right. Every time.

  • 4,000 schools and counting
  • Over 45,000 staff trained using our eLearning
  • More than 12,000 downloads of our INSET pack
A teacher and two students in a classroom.