Use of the term ‘fake news’ has soared in recent years, especially since a certain social media-loving businessman got into the White House, but a new study suggests that tomorrow’s adults are already savvy to it.
Figures released by Ofcom show that around three quarters of web users aged 12 to 15 are familiar with what ‘fake news’ is, and nearly two fifths say they have spotted a hoax news story on the internet.
The research also shows that while social media is one of the first places they turn to for news, people in their early teens are conscious that it’s not always the most reliable of sources.
Among people aged 12 to 15 with an interest in news, more than half (56%) said that social media is somewhere they go to for updates. This is higher than friends and family (48%) and radio (32%), but perhaps surprisingly lower than television (64%).
However, the same age group ranked social media as the least truthful of the four sources. While 61% believed news from friends and family to be truthful and 59% trusted TV and radio, less than a third (32%) class social media as somewhere to find true stories.
Youngsters are also taking steps to check the validity of news stories they see online, with the vast majority (86%) saying they would perform some sort of fact checking before believing a social media story to be true, whether this is looking to see if it appears anywhere else (48%) or reading the comments (39%).
It’s a big worry among adults that young people are left vulnerable by the internet, but many studies suggest that they are perhaps the most clued up generation. In 2013, a report by the Pew Research Centre found that the majority of teens (60%) are responsible enough to set their Facebook profiles to private. These Facebook users also sometimes review and delete their past posts, and are prepared to block other users where necessary.
From a personal point of view, when I see a dopey Facebook post such as a misguidedly shared Britain First meme or a Rochdale Herald piece taken with a satire bypass, it tends to be a certain generation of user responsible – and that generation is not the younger one!
Even so, there are other statistics in the survey that may concern those with anxieties over how early in their lives children are gaining an online presence. Examples include more than one in five (21%) kids having their own tablet by the age of four, 3% having a social media profile by the age of seven, and 81% of children ages 8 to 11 using YouTube, with “funny videos” and “pranks” being their viewing of choice.