Young people get a huge amount of their news from social media feeds, where false, exaggerated or sponsored content is often prevalent. With the right tools, caregivers can give kids the knowledge they need to assess credible information for themselves.
Being able to identify the trustworthiness of information is an important concern for everyone. Yet the sheer volume of material online and the speed at which it travels has made this an increasingly challenging task. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide a loudspeaker to anyone who can attract followers, no matter what their message or content.
Fake news has the power to normalise prejudices, to dictate us-versus-them mentalities and even, in extreme cases, to justify and encourage violence.
We have become obsessed with getting kids off their devices at the expense of developing their understanding of the online world. This is not about surveillance, but rather about having open conversations that empower children to understand and assess the usefulness of information for themselves.
Fake news is tricking children
Young people are growing up in a world where distributing large volumes of misinformation online has become a subtle yet powerful art.
It’s no surprise then that research published in 2016 by Stanford University suggests kids “may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources”.
For example, of 203 middle school students surveyed as part of the report, more than 80% thought a native ad on the news website Slate labelled “sponsored content” was a real news story. A majority of high school students questioned by the researchers didn’t recognise and explain the significance of the blue checkmark on a verified Fox News Facebook account.
With the amount of content we see in a busy day, it’s possible that these subtleties are being lost on many adults as well.
Minimising the harm of fake news for kids
Helping young people navigate online spaces requires better skills in verifying what is true and what isn’t.
Here are five questions to start the conversation with children.
Find an online post that you consider to be fake news and talk with the child about it. Shape your conversation around these questions:
Who made this post?
Who do they want to view it?
Who benefits from this post and/or who might be harmed by it?
Has any information been left out of the post that might be important?
Is a reliable source (like a mainstream news outlet) reporting the same news? If they’re not, it doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it does mean you should dig deeper.
Clues for children to use
Detecting fake news can be like a “spot the difference” game.
These questions are clues for kids that a source may be dodgy:
Is the URL or site name unusual? For example, those with a “.co” are often trying to masquerade as real news sites.
Is the post low-quality, possibly containing bold claims with no sources and lots of spelling or grammatical errors?
Does the post use sensationalist imagery? Women in sexy clothing are popular clickbait for unreliable content.
Are you shocked, angry or overjoyed by the post? Fake news often strives to provoke a reaction, and if you’re having an intense emotional response then it could be a clue the report isn’t balanced or accurate.
How is the story structured and what kind of proof does it offer? If it merely repeats accusations against the people involved in an incident without further reporting, for example, there’s probably a better version of the story out there from a more reliable news source.
Get to know the rules
Many social media sites are now also cracking down on the spread of fake news. Showing kids the restrictions these sites are imposing on their users will help them get a rounded understanding of the problem.
For example, asking kids to read the rules by which Reddit will remove content from r/news is a good starting point. Facebook also offers “Tips to Spot False News”, suggesting readers check that other sources are reporting similar facts and that they look out for weird formatting, among other hints.
Growing up in a world of fake news doesn’t have to be a heavy burden for kids. Rather, it requires extra support from adults to help them understand and navigate the digital world.
Our goal should be not only to help children survive this complicated online world, but to equip them with the knowledge they need to flourish in it.
Right wing provocateur Ann Coulter and Delta Airlines have been locked in a bitter and high profile battle of wills this week… over $30. Two of society’s great malefactors have been duking it out on Twitter after Ann was bumped from the god-given “extra leg room” seat she had paid for in advance.
So glad I took time investigate the aircraft & PRE-BOOK a specific seat on @Delta, so some woman could waltz at the last min & take my seat.
Coulter, no doubt hoping to generate sympathy by taking on an institution even more loathed than herself (especially after the misadventures of other US airlines in recent months), drastically miscalculated when she posted a picture of the poor, innocent woman who had been placed in her seat. Delta hit back, counter-tweeting that Coulter’s derogatory and slanderous comments were not apropos. Suddenly we had a natural experiment occurring, with two equally loathed competitors duking it out for glory. Coulter then brought out the heavy artillery, linking to an article in the Washington Times detailing some of our most common complaints about modern airlines
“Americans are sick and tired of being treated like chattel by airlines. Seats are smaller, legroom is far less ample, fees come fast and furious, lines are outrageously long, customer service is about a zero — or less — and complaints, no matter how valid, are handled with the most dismissive of attitudes that seem to sneer, yeah, we switched your seat, yeah, we lost your baggage, but what are you gonna do about it?”
The airline then stated that it would refund her $30 for the preferred seat she bought, adding, “Delta expects mutual civility throughout the entire travel experience.”
Game. Set. Match.
Well, not really. Coulter has since been doing the rounds on the conservative news carousel, waxing lyrical about her mistreatment by the social justice warrior airline. More fair-minded publications, as well as the liberal Twitter hoards, are pointing to Coulters’ behaviour as boorish and, dare we say it, “Trumpesque”. Squirmishes have continued for days, with no sign of a ceasefire on the horizon
Moving past our first reaction (bafflement that someone as high-profile as Ann Coulter chooses to spend her valuable time – $10,000 just to book a flight – flying economy AND makes her own bookings), what does this incident tell us about the current state of airline-customer relations?
Everyone can understand Coulter’s frustration at being re-seated. However, the bottom line is that Delta reserves the right to move passengers around, for example, when they need to accommodate customers with certain types of requirements. And having flown with a number of people with special needs over the years, I can guarantee you they don’t like having to sit in a specific location, but it’s much better for them and everyone else when they are located in an appropriate section.
The bigger issue is that Coulter’s Twitter tirade is indicative of an emerging norm. The airing of ones’ grievances at customer service via social media. And we’re all guilty of it! In this instance, the company’s response only seemed to inflame Coulter’s ire further, with a minor incident blowing up into a supernova of fraught and uncontrolled media exposure for the company.
That media exposure may work out well for Delta. The airline has been praised for its direct and quick response, employing the best strategy they could to make the best of a potential PR nightmare (see aformentioned United Airlines fiasco). In the words of one PR executive “They saw an opportunity to execute on their values, take an adult perspective and call out Ann Coulter and, in essence, others who have taken what may be a discretionary customer service move on the part of the airline and significantly overreact.”
On the other side of the equation, when someone like Ann Coulter uses her celebrity clout to tweet out a complaint, it reflects badly on her own public profile. Not only does it give the impression of selfishness and petulance, it also says ‘I’m more important’ than all the other customers who must go through the regular channels to place their complaints. And when the company responds through that channel, as they must, it only exacerbates the problem.
All in all, this type of situation is risky for all involved. The Company, whose primary concern is anything that will affect its bottom line (i.e. bad publicity). Delta will deploy a far more rapid response for Ann Coulter because of her 1.6 million twitter followers, then it will for Jo Blo twiddling his thumbs while on hold to the 1800 number. Jo is not going to see his complaint allocated anywhere near the efforts to address the “Ann Coulter Twitter Tantrum” issue. No wonder ordinary folks are driven to act out on social media.
So what is the lesson? It seems fairly simple from our perspective. The customer continues to be key. Companies need to spend more resources on ensuring that those who have paid for their products are satisfied with their experience.
The other lesson: every airline needs a Coulter and hopefully she’ll make the switch to United.
While this pilot doesn’t deserve any more airtime, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the cringe-worthy concept. I also asked a few colleagues to share their instant reactions and I’ve included a few of their comments below.
Before I add my two cents worth, I wanted to say CAPS off to Fee Townshend from Eleven who shared her views in ‘Don’t spin it, bin it’.
Now to the ‘idea’. It presents an outdated concept of a PR professional. After years of hard work moving the profession away from the spin stereotype, a show like this, even a poorly animated pilot, could wash a lot of this hard work down the drain.
And the cast. Rather predictable and more befitting a reality TV show than a panel about PR. I mean seriously, where is the homage to Spicy Spicer?
What do you think? Would you watch?
We asked some colleagues to share their thoughts. Here are a few they shared with us:
Any PR agency worth its salt would run a million miles from this but, then again, it might help to expose the greedy ‘at any cost’ agencies still lurking and willing to engage in dodgy practice. While there are still many companies out there willing to put profits before people or the planet, it’s becoming easier to find them out. Ps ah, they’re missing the whole point of Gruen!
Just sounds boring.“Gruen” meets “Hypothetical” with Geoffrey Robinson. And totally inappropriate to be discussing crises in this context – let’s “spin” Grenfell Tower. Entertainment out of catastrophe. Maybe the crisis that is Channel 10 would be interested.
Would have thought someone with the professional background he claims would have a more informed knowledge of PR … an attempt at self promotion?
Very sad to see such a terrible and total misrepresentation of what we do as communicators. It highlights a clear disconnection between its creator and the modern, dynamic profession that exists here in Australia. It should get as much attention with networks as I give to my dust-gathering keyboard. I urge the industry to set it aside and continue with the fantastic work being done in Australia.
This show undoes any progress we’ve made in establishing the credibility and scope of what Public Relations covers. It distills our profession into a farce that ‘makes and destroys reputations’.
With trust in chief executives at its lowest in recent years, research found that Australian companies led by CEOs who are active on social media – “social executives” – are perceived 23 per cent more positively than companies without. This highlights the opportunity for executives to influence their organisation’s perception, build brand trust, and drive employee advocacy.
Analysing the social media behaviours of ASX200 chief executives across Australia and New Zealand, Hootsuite established a Digital Perception Index (DPI) to provide an indication of public sentiment towards a company, analysing more than 145,000 social posts from 1 October 2016 to 30 April 2017. Thank goodness for the automation of Hootsuite, or that would have been a lot of clicking!
Companies with social executives are perceived 23 per cent more positively than those without
While 66 per cent of ASX200 chief executives have a social media presence, only 10 per cent are active on social media
86 per cent of Asia Pacific executives believe social CEOs have a positive impact on a company’s reputation, with 76 per cent believing it enhances their credibility
Marketing Leadership: Partners to the Social Executive
Whilst Australian CEOs are ahead of their global counterparts, 34 per cent of chief executives do not have any public social media presence. Those with trusted, capable communications counsel from their marketing leadership are better armed and ready to deploy and benefit from the strategic use of social media.
“Corporate reputation and business performance are increasingly dependent on social media. Social executives have more success inspiring employees, attracting new customers and talent, and building loyalty and trust,” said Rich Meiklejohn, General Manager, Asia Pacific, Hootsuite. “Having the support and involvement of all teams within an organisation is crucial to help executives build an active professional brand on social media channels.”
Leading by example: Australia’s top social executives
With customer engagements becoming increasingly more digital, traditional business models are changing and with it, the role and expectations of executives.
One of the social executives, Cindy Hook, CEO, Deloitte Australia, said: “Clients and business are being increasingly disrupted and we are all looking for new ideas and ways to address the business challenges we face. It’s a digital world and we are all connected so why not take advantage of it.”
Offering insights from some of Australia’s most identifiable and influential company leaders, Hootsuite’s report aims at changing attitudes of executives towards social media, and empowering marketing and communications leaders to drive this change.
For those looking to join the conversation, Hootsuite identified social executives that are harnessing the power of their own social media channels to build sentiment for the brands they lead.
Top Australian Social Executives (in alphabetical order):
When she’s not cross-country skiing, crew member Danielle Johnston is focused on cabins, checkin and concierges as the Editor of travel website Journeys to Come with Catriona Rowntree. Prior to joining the c word in 2011, Danielle was general manager of a not-for-profit sustainability consultancy in Melbourne following five years as business director at the Committee for Melbourne. Danielle has also worked in publishing, human resources and marketing, in London and San Francisco.
Tell us about your typical day in communications?
Plan, execute, capture any lessons, close the file, repeat…
When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?
When I was 12, I fell in love with storytelling. When I was 15, I did work experience at the “Sun” newspaper and followed journalists around their Melbourne beats for a week. At the end of Year 12, journalism was my #1 study preference. Fortunately, the grand plan came off.
Specialist science journalists are vital in our society in a few key ways. These include as public disseminators of sound science that can lead to policy, as identifiers of flawed journalism and “dodgy” (even life-threatening) science, and as gatekeepers between public relations departments in research institutions and the general media.
And yet the number of specialist science reporters in Australia is in serious decline.
Not only was the story given robust and prominent coverage across Australian news media platforms, the Daily Telegraph and news site MamaMia also ran campaigns encouraging readers to pledge to immunise their children.
In 2013 the Daily Telegraph followed up with a “No jab, no play” concept, promoting the idea that childcare centres should ban children who had not been immunised. State and federal governments have subsequently introduced legislation to effect this proposal. The program is still being monitored.
Linked to this coverage, a successful case was mounted in the NSW Office of Fair Trading against anti-immunisation activist group the Australian Vaccination Network. The network’s name was found to be misleading and the group has now re-badged itself as the “Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”.
Journalism as a gatekeeper for “bad” science
Sound peer review and editorial procedures are in place in many research journals, but sometimes what can best be described as “dodgy” science is published, and this can lead to disastrous results.
The classic example is the (now falsified) study in 1998 that reported on autism-like symptoms and gastrointestinal abnormalities in children associated with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination. The study was small (only 12 children), observational, and submitted for publication without key disclosures from lead author Andrew Wakefield.
Had the journalists at that initial press conference been equipped to appraise the findings critically, the poor science may have been revealed from the start. The paper was later found to be fraudulent by investigative journalist Brian Deer, who published stories in print and made a documentary revealing the hoax.
Science journalism vs science PR
Science journalism and science public relations (PR) can be difficult to distinguish. The job of the PR specialist is to maximise eyeballs on each story. The job of the journalist is to find the story and report the evidence behind it, no matter whose story it is.
Stories that are written with a university press release – rather than a peer-reviewed science paper – as the main source of evidence can easily cross the line into infotainment rather than independent reporting.
It’s also the case that some stories that look like science journalism are heavily sponsored by universities and research institutions. This so-called “native content” – in that it looks appropriate for its context – is becoming more prevalent.
It’s a trend exacerbated by the movement of journalists from media organisations into communication roles in academic and research institutions. While the writing style is journalistic, the focus is to promote the science from the institutions that employ them. This bypasses robust and independent examination of the evidence.
There may be more of this to come as science journalists become an endangered species.
An endangered species
Embedded in Australian news rooms, the investigative science journalist is a rare beast; the most recent in a long line of casualties are Marcus Strom from The Sydney Morning Herald, and Bridie Smith of Melbourne’s The Age, who left Fairfax last week after 16 years.
It seems the ABC is the only mainstream media outlet with a science unit. Here, specialists Anna Salleh and Jake Sturmer along with experienced science journalists, communicators and broadcasters (Robyn Williams, Natasha Mitchell, Joel Werner, Bernie Hobbs, Ruben Meerman and Dr Karl amongst others) present regular science content on various platforms.
Journalists in specialities such as environment, health and technology do still hold positions at major media platforms, and Cosmos Magazine provides another platform for science content in Australia. Freelance science journalists including Bianca Nogrady, Leigh Dayton and Graham Readfearn work on specific projects across a variety of platforms.
Specialist correspondents develop a deep and complex understanding of their round over time, and carry a knowledge of what’s gone before that surpasses a quick internet search. They might, for instance, recognise that a particular “breakthrough” is simply an old study repackaged, that a study is very small, or that its promises have been made before without amounting to much. Or that the “faster than light” neutrinos were a statistical anomaly (and an error) rather than a tested matter of fact.
The disappearance of the specialist science correspondent means a loss of personnel with the time and the expertise to probe deeply and to ask uncomfortable questions. The consequences are declines in the breadth, depth and quality of science coverage. Pair this with an increased workload, the need for journalists to apply multimedia skills and the constant pressure to publish (driven by the 24-hour news cycle), and the opportunities for genuine investigation are slim.
New ways to cover science
As the number of science correspondents has fallen, the science sector has rushed in to fill the online void with blogs and social media sites (some terrifically successful).
Facilities such as the Australian Science Media Centre now work to support and facilitate evidence-based science journalism. The Centre boasts 1,600 subscribers and informs hundreds of reporters who attend regular briefings.
When the Australian Science Media Centre started in 2005, there were around 35 specialist science reporters in mainstream newsrooms around the country. Now you need less than one hand to count them.
This loss of specialist reporters means that there is no one to fight for good science in editorial meetings or look for science angles in everyday news stories.
We’re all going to have to do everything we can to help general reporters cover science and make sure they don’t miss the important stuff.
The future of science journalism
It may be that science journalism has never enjoyed a consistent position in media outlets – some report that “peak science journalism” happened in 1987. In an important review of the history of popular science, writer Martin Bauer points out that science journalism is prone to a “boom and bust cycle”.
The call for more and improved science journalism is based on an assumption that lives are worse off without it. This is an easy leap for academics to make; after all, our very existence is based on the idea that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.
But how can we convince the general public this is the case? Studying the “decline of science journalism” – fewer numbers of journalists, diffuse science reporting, the rise of branded and native content – will not be enough to show that we need more science journalists. We must be able to clearly identify a public good, and convince media-saturated consumers that science deserves a place in their lives.
We must also develop a clear business case that supports science journalism. Relatively new media platforms such as Nautilus and narrative.ly provide some evidence that blending science with creative nonfiction, philanthropic funding, subscription services, paywalls, and hybrid models of journalism and public relations are worth further exploration.
However there has yet to be a convincing case of overwhelming public support for robust science journalism. In our view, this is a shame. We think academic and media groups, and those private sectors that rely on science and technology, should start articulating the public value of science journalism.
This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia, and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University.