Misinformation is a Threat to Campus Safety — Here’s How to Prevent It
When misinformation spreads online, young audiences can easily mistake them for facts. UNICEF once reported about how over 3,000 American high school students thought that a grainy ballot video was showing voter fraud in the US when in fact, it was taken in Russia. School kids are vulnerable to disinformation, especially since there is no way of filtering out fake news that spreads online. Maryville University’s article on misinformation attributes the spread of this misinformation to technology. Digital news is cheaper and has a wider audience reach at the cost of accurate reporting.
But there are consequences aside from fake news. Recent discussions on campus safety deny that kids are at risk at all. If you are interested in how miscommunication is a threat to campus safety and what schools are doing to combat it, this article discusses how and ways to prevent it.
How is misinformation a threat to campus safety?
Young kids are vulnerable to fake news because they are often told credibly. For example, when Stanford Graduate School of Education studied young students’ media literacy, only 20% were able to tell ads apart from news stories. As a result, many believe in online conspiracies, such as how Facebook was looking to charge money for private accounts. Holly Korbey, a parenting and teaching journalist, even recalled that her 13-year-old worried about the incoming “World War III” because he watched satirical content on TikTok.
More alarmingly, false claims about campus safety can persuade students to ignore the possibility of danger. For example, posts online can claim that recent school shootings were merely staged by the government. These are picked up on obscure platforms like 4chan, QAnon, and Patriots.win. Associating the shooter with racial, sexual, and gender minorities—especially if it’s untrue—can also be harmful to students who belong to those communities. It can provoke sympathy.
What are schools doing to combat misinformation?
The responsibility of knowing what is true and false isn’t entirely down to the kids. It falls on educational institutions to protect kids from the harmful consequences of fake news. This means that schools and educators themselves must observe best practices against misinformation. Mindfulness educator Greg Graber stresses the importance of critical thinking at a time when so much unfiltered information is available online. Websites like Everytown for Gun Safety help education practitioners fact-check which safety measures are best for their students. The website debunks ideas like arming teachers because it brings in more threats than safety, as having a gun in the classroom makes it more accessible to students.
There is also the matter of active shooter simulations. Although it is observed by 95% of public schools in the US, it is largely misinformed. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García advises against shooter drills because they can inflict unnecessary trauma on the students, especially the youngest ones, who still cannot differentiate simulation from reality. NEA also called out TikTok to have tighter regulations after threats of school shootings spread on the app. While a lot of work is yet to be done to confront the misinformation surrounding school shootings, several educational organizations are working to counter the consequences associated with fake news.
What can parents do to prevent the spread of misinformation?
Parents can take a more active role in preventing the spread of misinformation, especially when it comes to campus safety. Start with making a habit of fact-checking with the help of sites like FactCheck.org, Washington Post Fact Checker, and Politifact. These sites help you confirm information through direct questions or debunking posts. You can also share this activity with your kid so that, like Korbey, you can guide them with the news you consume and build a culture around conversation at home.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s school about the specific measures they’re taking against misinformation. More than being a role model to your kids, you can also set an example for peers and other members of the community.
Though ensuring campus safety will entail more than just reworking media consumption practices, remember that misinformation initially starts with a single post. But good habits, too, spread. As schools and organizations work tirelessly to ensure the safety of their students, remember that you, too, can participate in this change.
Written exclusively by J Evans for protectingourstudents.org