How might vulnerable children be impacted by misinformation and disinformation online and what can parents do to limit these impacts?
We are seeing a significant amount of misinformation and disinformation online at present – particularly related to the conflict in Ukraine and it is important to distinguish between the two.
Misinformation refers to the sharing of misleading or false content with good intentions – i.e. the person who shared it believed it to be true and thought they were being helpful by sharing it. Disinformation refers to content that is shared in order to mislead or influence the way someone thinks or behaves. This can be done on a large scale and can be state sponsored in some cases.
Many young people are viewing content being shared by those who are caught up in the conflict in Ukraine, and it is incredibly powerful that individuals are able to use social media platforms in order to share with the world the situation that they are in. However, it can be difficult to verify the authenticity of such content, and it is very important that we don’t just assume that something is genuine (or indeed fake) just because it triggers our emotions.
A recent UNICEF publication noted that “Children may be particularly vulnerable to mis/disinformation because their maturity and cognitive capacities are still evolving, including the development of ‘different psychological and physiological motivations, and with them, different rights and protections.’”
For vulnerable children in particular, they can often take what they see at face value and believe it to be true. It is important that parents provide opportunities for discussions with their children and make clear that whilst not everything online is true, it can be difficult to spot what is real and what is fake. Children and young people should be encouraged to ask if they are unsure and reminded not to share content if they are unsure about its authenticity.