Schools to teach children about fake news and ‘confirmation bias’, government announces

Proliferation of false information sources can ‘destroy trust, damage learning culture, and sap curiosity’, Department for Education says

Harry Cockburn
Monday 15 July 2019 06:15 BST
‘For news, young people will have to work out their own preferred sources, but the important thing is to be discerning’
‘For news, young people will have to work out their own preferred sources, but the important thing is to be discerning’

School teachers need to better prepare pupils of the risks posed by “fake news” and disinformation online, the education secretary Damian Hinds has warned.

Every child will learn about confirmation bias and online risks as a compulsory part of the curriculum as the government publishes new safety guidance for schools.

Teachers will have to help children learn to evaluate what they see online, how to recognise techniques used for persuasion, how to identify potential risks and how and when to seek support.

The government said it will enable children “to recognise and respond to ‘fake news’ more effectively and to differentiate between misinformation and disinformation”.

The proliferation of fake news can “destroy trust, damage learning culture, and sap curiosity”, the Department for Education said in a statement.

Mr Hinds said the internet has made it much easier to “spread falsehoods – inadvertently or by design”.

He will attend a social media and online harms summit alongside health secretary Matt Hancock on Monday.

One of the topics the government is keen to address is the anti-vaccination movement.

The education secretary said: “Today we will be addressing with social media companies how to curb the spread of misleading content on vaccinations. But this issue goes much further than that, and without firm action it is set to get a lot worse.

“The reputations of institutions and companies, and liberal democracy itself, can quickly be eroded by the spread of so-called ‘fake news’. Since ancient times, propagandists have sought to manipulate the truth. But in the internet age these techniques are available not just to states but to campaign groups and individuals. And social media’s network effects, and the power of ‘Likes’, mean their spread can be self-propelling.

“What starts as disinformation – deliberate falsification – gets replicated through misinformation – stating or passing on something that you believe to be true but isn’t.‎”

He added: “Trusted sources become more important than ever. For health information, clearly that means the NHS. For news, young people will have to work out their own preferred sources, but the important thing is to be discerning.

“We need the tech companies to make that easier – but we also need to ensure that young people are new-media-savvy. That’s why we are introducing new content to schools that is a fusion of the Relationships, Citizenship and Computing curricula. Children won’t just learn about what a spoofer or a sock-puppet are, or how clickbait headlines try to lure you in. They’ll learn about how so-called confirmation bias helps stories spread, and discuss why someone might want to bend the truth in the first place.”

Beginning next year, the government is making health education – which includes content on physical and mental wellbeing – universally compulsory, alongside introducing compulsory relationships education for primary age pupils and relationships and sex education at secondary age pupils. The aim is that every child will learn about internet safety and harms alongside the importance of mental wellbeing.

Pupils will be taught about internet safety at various stages of the curriculum including at Key Stage 3 and 4.

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