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Covid-19 fake news fed to children, parents fear

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More than a third of parents worry their children see dodgy information about Covid-19, reveals new research from online safety group Internet Matters.

At 36 per cent, this ranked higher than any other internet worries, such as hoax challenges (33%), terrorism (33%) and false medical advice, such as a cure for cancer (28%).

But only 16% of parents have talked to their children about how to spot fake news online.

“The ever-changing digital landscape makes it increasingly hard for parents to keep up,” said fake news expert Professor William Watkin, who advises Internet Matters about fake news.

“By helping children distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake, you can help them develop critical thinking and digital literacy,” said the Brunel University London academic.

“Talk to them about what to look out for online, such as what is the story trying to say and how the story makes them feel – often fake news will try and manipulate people’s feelings in order for them to click on it. You can’t shield your child from the misinformation out there, but you can teach them how to read, react and respond to it.”

It comes as Internet Matters, backed by Google, launches a new hub offering tips on how to tell the difference between what is real and what is false online. Advice includes helping children check things like the URL and imagery, and making sure they understand that because it is shared by a friend or influencer doesn’t mean it is real. It also recommends tech tools on platforms to help parents limit children’s news feed and manage what they see.

“This research highlights that parents are understandably worried that their children may find it harder to separate fact from fiction, especially in relation to Covid-19,” said Internet Matters chief executive Carolyn Bunting. “It’s so important to help them make sense of what they see online, encouraging them to think carefully.”