Children’s media literacy in times of fake news

This blog post is part of the ‘Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration Series’ headed by Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance & Integration Prof. Katharine Sarikakis, and curated by Wagner Piassaroli Mantovaneli und Markos Mpadanes.


By Tabea Reuter



Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Children nowadays have access to the internet, social media and thus to anything happening in the world. They get information and news often from online sources. The problem here is that children do not always have the knowledge or the experience to distinguish between real fact-based and „fake news“. But what can be done to advance children’s news media literacy and their capacity for critical thinking? This is a challenge for parents and teachers now more than ever.

„Media literacy is an individual’s ability to access, analyze, and evaluate media“ (Lee 2018, p. 460). In other words, media literacy enables children to think critically and to evaluate if the information and news received online is reliable. Knowing what is true and what is false is an essential skill, especially in times of elections (for example, in the 2016 US Presidential election fake news were spread on Facebook and Twitter about Hillary Clinton, which may have affected some voters). These days, media literacy is very important because of the increasing use of internet and social media by children, as the following studies show:

Media literacy has been an issue ever since the emergence of mass media. In the early 20th century there were concerns that some sorts of media, for example the cinema or popular culture media, have a negative influence on children. At that time, media literacy was often accompanied by media education, so teachers made efforts to provide children with skills for critical thinking (Notley/Dezuanni 2018, p. 4). Nowadays, the internet is the main concern to have a bad influence on children, not television or print media. Internet and social media bring of course many benefits but also some disadvantages. One big disadvantage is how easy spreading fake news can be. Fake news is a frequently-used term and means misinformation. But there are different forms of fake news. You can distinguish between:

  • Satire, which is a sarcastic, funny story and often about current events or prominent figures. Satire is not true but is not meant to fool the readers, even though sometimes it does.
  • Hoaxes, which is false information that is meant to fool readers but without political motivation.
  • Propaganda, which is false information with the purpose to mislead readers in any political direction – this is the biggest threat of democracy. (Lee 2018, p. 462)

Every person can be fooled by fake news, but children are a highly vulnerable population. A study from Common Sense Media found out that on the one hand news is very important to children and they like to consume it but, on the other hand, children are often fooled by online fake news and do not trust media organizations. For this reason children rely more on their families and teachers when they talk about news nonetheless the main news source for children is online media. Children are the future voters so it is important to encourage them to follow the news. This is why children’s media literacy is so valuable.

So, what are the possibilities to increase children’s awareness of fake news? First of all, teachers and schools are challenged to help children in class with media education. It would be great if media education would be introduced in the curricula of at least primary schools. Not only schools, but also parents have to comply with their educational duty. It is of great importance for parents to talk with their children about the news and about the following recommendations from Common Sense Media on how to spot fake news:

  • URL: Unusual URLs often indicates that this source of information is not reliable.
  • Quality: Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and other signs of low quality can be a good hint that the source is not trustworthy.
  • About us: No or not complete information about the ownership of the online source is also a sign for fake news.
  • Other Sources: It can be a sign that the news of the source is not true when it is the only source that is reporting about a certain incident.

In conclusion, it can be said that media literacy skills of children are now more important than ever. The growing amount of internet usage from children and the big number of fake news on the web underlines this statement. As soon as children learn to be critical thinkers they will become informed future voters. Teachers and parents are both key-persons in this development. It is crucial for children to have adults, whom they can talk to about news, different online sources and anything they do not understand. This gives children essential competencies to be safe on the internet and not to be fooled by any dubious stories.



Center for Information Technology & Society: The Danger of Fake News to Our Election. URL:

Filucci, Sierra (2017): How to Spot Fake News (and Teach Kids to Be Media-Savvy). URL:

Lee, Nicole M.: Fake News, Phishing, and Fraud: A Call for Research on Digital Media Literacy Education beyond the Classroom. In: Communication Education, 2018, 67/4, p. 460-466.

Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest (mpfs): KIM-Studie 2016. Kindheit, Internet, Medien. URL:

Notley, Tanya/Dezuanni, Michael: Advancing children’s news media literacy: learning from the practices and experiences of young Australians. In: Media, Culture and Society, 2018, p. 1-19.

Ofcom, UK (2018): Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report. URL:

Robb, Michael (2017): Our New Research Shows Where Kids Get Their News and How They Feel About It. URL:



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