Misinformation on social media: How can you help your teen?

Social media and misinformation

There is a lot of information on the Internet, and it takes time and effort to know what's true and trustworthy, and what isn't. Like everyone, young people need the skills to spot misinformation online.

Identifying misinformation

There is no single definition of the term 'misinformation'. But it is generally understood as "false information", distinguishable from 'disinformation' in that it is not spread with the intent to deceive someone.

On social media, it can appear as a sensationalist headline, or an exaggerated post that takes things out of context to create a false impression. Spammers use it to drive clicks and yield profits, and adversaries may use it in elections and ethnic conflicts.

Combating misinformation

The fight against misinformation can feel overwhelming, but there are lots of things we can do to fight its spread.

At Meta, our strategy to stop misinformation has three parts:

  • Remove accounts and content that violate our Community Standards or ad policies
  • Reduce the distribution of misinformation and inauthentic content such as clickbait
  • Inform people by giving them more context on the posts that they see

This approach is designed to stop the spread of misinformation and help people stay informed without stifling public discourse.

Parents and young people also have a role to play. Drawing on the ideas highlighted by the Maxwell Library at Bridgewater State University, here are some more tips that can help you and your teen judge the accuracy of information posted to social media:

Tip 1: Dig deeper

Headlines and story excerpts can only tell us so much. It's also helpful to look beyond the post or link to the original source material, to get the full context on what we see or read.

Tip 2: Use the Internet

If a story isn't already flagged by fact-checkers, often a quick search will reveal if it's accurate. Good sources of news will also link to other legitimate news sites.

Tip 3: Use your judgement

Ask yourself: how plausible is the premise of what I'm reading? What was the author's intent? Is this a news story or an opinion piece? There is no single formula for ascertaining truth, but sometimes all it takes is a little more effort.

Tip 4: Research quotes

There are a lot of quotations floating around the Internet attributed to people who never said them. As with anything, a little research before sharing goes a long way.

Tip 5: Look for scammy ads or other "clickbait"

Some purveyors of misinformation do it to get you to click to their website, where they're credited with advertising to you. Low-quality and scammy ads are a sign that something might not be worthy of your trust.

Tip 6: Watch for sensationalised content

Be mindful of poor grammar, excessive use of exclamation marks, all-caps phrases and hard appeals to your emotions. A lot of misinformation is designed just to elicit a reaction, not to inform.

Tip 7: Above all, read critically

Before sharing something, it's important to slow down and critically read the whole story, not just the sensationalised headline.

What makes a source credible

As we discuss in 'Helping young people to be better readers of online content', one way to identify credible sources is to use these questions: Who? What? Where? Why? When?

  • Who created this content?
  • What is the content getting at?
  • Where was it created?
  • Why was it created?
  • When was it created?

To learn more about identifying credible sources, check out the following tips:

What to do when you see misinformation

It can be a hard thing to navigate a conversation with someone that posts misinformation, especially if it's a friend or family member. These moments are opportunities to open up a dialogue and share accurate information from credible sources.

Here are a few tips for your teen to bear in mind when navigating interactions around misinformation:

  • Be gentle when correcting friends or family on social media

Because misinformation commonly leans on emotional appeal to persuade others, talking to someone sharing this kind of content can be difficult and highly emotional. Being mindful of those emotions and empathising with how others might feel helps give context to any interaction.

  • Don't publicly embarrass or shame others for sharing misinformation

Private conversations can avoid misunderstandings in public. Keep the tone civil and constructive when pointing to the latest news from credible sources.

Learn more about how Meta is reducing the spread of misinformation across our technologies.

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