How to be media savvy in 2021

Facebook’s ban on Australian users accessing news sites earlier this year sparked plenty of heated discussion about our reliance, or over-reliance on social media as a source of information, particularly amongst younger people.

During all the commentary surrounding this issue, I saw an interview with national leader in media literacy, journalist and mum Saffron Howden, who shared some thoughts and tips on how to teach our children about the difference between fake and real news.

Against the backdrop of viral conspiracy theories including everything from health issues to politics, Saffron’s words prompted me check the blog I wrote last year on media literacy and check it against some of her advice. 

You may be thinking, “But didn’t Facebook put everything back to normal after all the outcry about the news ban?

Well, maybe - depending on your definition of ‘normal’. Furthermore, the fact that Facebook plans to introduce a dedicated news product by the end of this year demonstrates that news and social media is continuing to develop rapidly.

It is therefore worth keeping up with the latest changes to ensure your child is not falling into the fake news traps and help them make intelligent decisions about their own lives and issues that may impact many others. 

Questions to ask when looking at news on social media

Who is putting out the information? 

Do they have a good reputation?

Can they prove they are who they say they are?

Is there a way of contacting a person behind the website or social media account?

Have you heard of them before?

What else have they said?

Why do you think they are sharing this information?

Are they trying to sell a product or service? Are they spreading ideas or ‘news’ to gain or lose political support?

Is anyone else saying this? 

There’s a saying that real news is never lonely, meaning that if the news actually happened, multiple sources will be reporting it but still be aware here, as in the past multiple sources have also been known to report false news - do not rely on this test alone!

Check the date of when the information was shared or published

If it was a few weeks or even months ago, is there now more up to date information on the topic?

Does the story present two sides of the issue or is only one side presented?

If only one side is being presented, then you are not receiving all the facts. Look elsewhere to see the other side of the issue.

Does the story look professionally presented and is it well written? 

If so that is a good start. If it does seem like a Primary School student wrote it, complete with random capital words and no punctuation then you could be looking in the wrong place.

Cross check the numbers

Is it really, for example, “thousands” of Australians who have had adverse reactions to the COVID vaccine?

If a story raises more questions than answers for your child, then get them to do a little more detective work.

Other things to check

Check the domain, or online territory of the website 

Are there any spelling mistakes in the link you are viewing? Look closely because dodgy website producers often sneakily switch the place of a letter or two that a quick check may not pick up. 

Look at the final letters of a domain name is a company or business is a network, often a private enterprise is a community, religious or other non-profit organisation is an education provider, such as a school or university is a federal government website is a WA government site 

Are there a lot of click bait ads with sensational claims?

Additional resources and online fact checks

Listed below some of the latest resources and online fact checks to help children and teenagers navigate their way through the plethora of ‘news’ we are bombarded with on social media.

  • The RMIT ABC Fact Check site is here
  • Australia’s eSafety Commissioner (
  • The Alannah and Madeline Foundation has a Media Literacy Lab for students aged 12-16
  • Media Wise has tips and video for teens here
  • Civic Online Reading, run by Stanford University in the US has some great exercises and lessons in lateral reading, or leaving a site to see what other are saying about the topic.  
  • For Primary School aged children ABC’s Behind the News site has stories about current topics as well as quizzes. 
  • Kid Reporter – The Secret to Breaking News by Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn