4 min read

Key Points

  • The spread of misinformation in the UK has reached new heights and is now having real impacts on people’s health, as well as our national security

  • According to Ofcom, 61% of people are concerned about the impact of misinformation concerning COVID-19

  • A UK government report published in July concluded that foreign countries were spreading misinformation to fuel political division and influence political events

  • There are steps you can take to protect yourself and the children in your care from misinformation

What is Misinformation?

Misinformation is the deliberate development of stories and events which are not factually correct to further an ideology, sow confusion or delegitimise an individual or cause. Some information may be based on something that was true but has since been exaggerated and changed so that it no longer accurately represents the truth.

Misinformation is nothing new. Newspapers have been accused of printing fake news stories since they began. But now misinformation can reach a global audience within seconds via social media platforms.

Without factually correct information guiding their decision-making processes, children and young people are likely to form incorrect opinions and views of the world around them.

COVID-19 and Misinformation?

Since the first wave of COVID-19, fake news and misinformation have spread quickly via social media, which has had a real-world impact on the response to the pandemic. Experts have called this the perfect storm for the spread of misinformation, due to heightened confusion, fear, and more time spent online. The UK government has accused social media platforms of not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation.

A recent report by campaign group, Avaaz found that pages from the top 10 sites peddling inaccurate information and conspiracy theories about health received almost four times as many views on Facebook as the top 10 reputable sites for health information.

The spread of misinformation regarding COVID-19, or the ‘Infodemic’, is having serious impacts. Research suggests a single piece of coronavirus misinformation could have led to as many as 800 deaths during the global lockdown.

study at the University of Oxford found that more than a fifth of people in England believe that COVID-19 is a hoax. This has led to numerous ‘anti-mask’ protests, which has risked the further spread of the virus

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that people with poor numerical literacy were more likely to believe COVID-19 misinformation. The research concluded that improving people’s analytical skills could help turn the tide against an epidemic of “fake news” surrounding the health crisis.

Misinformation About Everything

Unfortunately, misinformation covers more themes than just COVID-19. Misinformation on social media is shaping opinions around the world on matters such as migration, racism, the US election, Brexit, and much more.

A recent report published by the UK Government’s Intelligence and Security Committee concluded that Russia was spreading fake news and attempting to influence political events “for a wide range of purposes”. The report reads:

“Employees of the Russian state and Russian-controlled bots may masquerade as ordinary British citizens on social media and give the UK’s politicians, journalists and other people who may have power and influence the impression – simply via the sheer quantity of posts – that the views espoused are genuinely those of a majority of their country’s public.”

What You Can Do

With an abundance of misinformation, fake news, and non-factual reporting, it can be challenging to decipher what is factual information and what is not. Below, we have developed key advice for you and the children and young people in your care.

Before sharing or believing anything online, it’s always worth following these guidelines:

  • Check the publisher
    Who or where did the story come from, what other information have they published and what do you know about the news outlet?

  • Check the sources
    Who does the news story quote? If they mention experts or other news outlets, you can -search online to see if they check out.

  • Research it yourself

    Read past the headline, think about what the story is telling you and pay attention to dramatic language.

  • Check the date
    When was the article published? It might be old or reposted.

  • Pay attention to images
    They may not be recent and may have been reused (you can use reverse image search to find out).

  • Use a fact-checker
    Many websites check facts, and stories reported in the press. Have a look at Full Fact.

It’s important to encourage young people to discuss the news with you so that you can figure it out together. They should be sure before reacting, digesting false information, or sharing rumours online.

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