By: Lynette Owens

In today’s world of fake news and cyber propaganda, it can be difficult for many of us to know what’s real and what’s there to mislead us. Our kids are arguably even more exposed to potentially damaging messages given they’re living more and more of their lives online. Where once their belief systems came from parents, grandparents and teachers, today they’re increasingly influenced by the forces of popular culture, social media and online advertising.

That’s why at Trend Micro we strongly support media literacy education, which helps us analyze, evaluate and understand the messages we’re being fed. We’ve been working hard over the past decade to help parents and children become critical thinkers of and active participants in their online safety and responsibilities, and this includes building a healthier relationship with media online.

To that end, we are proud to celebrate Media Literacy Week this week. This offers a great opportunity for everyone to become aware of and practice thinking critically, as well as asking the right questions about what they see online.

Fake news-as-a-service

Fake news and how we deal with it is one of the biggest challenges of modern times. If left unchecked, it has the potential to seriously harm our society, as well as undermine our democratic institutions and our way of life. That’s why we’re committed to shining an unwavering light on the problem, improving education and awareness so we’re all better prepared to spot opinion manipulation.

Last year we released a groundbreaking report, The Fake News Machine, revealing that the widespread business of fake news is around the world. Some campaigns are driven out of financial greed, making ad revenue from user clicks on outrageous stories, while many more are intended to sway our political views. Some services provided in the cybercriminal underground offer to manipulate elections and referendums from as little as $400,000, as well as instigate street protests ($200,000), discredit journalists ($55,000), and even create fake celebrities with hundreds of thousands of social media followers ($2,600).

What questions should we ask?

It’s clearly vital that we address the problem head on, which means helping our kids read and understand media more critically. That’s part of the reason why our popular What’s Your Story? student competition this past year focused on one question: “How do you know if what you see online is real or fake?”

Supporting media literacy skills in your own home can seem like a daunting task in a world of information overload. However, as explained in A Parent’s Guide to Media Literacy, developed by the National Association for Media Literacy Education with support from Trend Micro, it can be boiled down to one concept: Teach your kids to ask questions.

With that in mind, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Why was this piece of content or article created?
  • Who made it?
  • How do I know if it’s true?
  • What’s missing?
  • Who might benefit from the message behind it?
  • Who might be harmed by the message?

It’s easier than you think to introduce this kind of critical thinking into your interactions with your kids. Ask them about what they saw or read in the news today and what they think about it. We often talk about the importance of being skeptical online to keep us safe from phishing scams, dodgy advertising and fake accounts/catfishing. We should extend that healthy skepticism to any messages we see.

By nurturing an environment at home where kids reflexively ask questions about any media messages, our kids will begin to gain an understanding of issues like bias and credibility. And hopefully, they will ultimately become active and informed participants in the world, rather than passive consumers of whatever is thrown their way.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.