Teaching Your Kids to Think Critically and Detect C.R.A.P. Online

This week I got a chance to chat with digital literacy educator Diana Graber. Diana is the author of RAISING HUMANS IN A DIGITAL WORLD: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology and the creator of Cyber Civics, a course taught in 42 States and 4 other countries.

It was an eye opening discussion and I’m definitely going have some different discussions with my kids about their use of technology — and probably my own as well.

Her new book covers a number of topics related to kids and their online behavior, including:

  • What is appropriate screen time per week,
  • How to maintain your privacy online (Hint: Don’t take quizzes! They just collect your information to sell to advertisers),
  • How to protect your reputation online, and
  • Online relationships: cyber bullying, sexting, and safety

But what I wanted to talk to Diana about was a chapter in her book called Critical Thinking, which is really about media literacy and how to not be fooled by everything you see on the Internet. Gullibility to propaganda has caused nations to crumble, and ruined the lives of people unable to spot truth from fiction.

We had a wide ranging discussion that touched on a lot of problems and solutions. Click the play button above to listen. If you’re in a hurry, you can read an excerpt from that chapter of her book below. But the conversation is more fun. 🙂

Excerpt from Raising Humans in a Digital World

If you’re at all familiar with middle school kids, then you know they love anything remotely scatological (think fart jokes). That’s why I love telling kids I’m going to teach them about crap. It gets their attention every time. . .

In [his book] Net Smart, something of a guidebook for the digital age, [Howard] Rheingold suggests that a crucial “digital know-how” skill needed today is “crap detection.” He defines “crap” as “information tainted by ignorance, inept communication, or deliberate deception.” According to Rheingold, “Learning to be a critical consumer of web info is not rocket science. It’s not even algebra. Becoming acquainted with the fundamentals of web credibility testing is easier than learning the multiplication tables. The hard part, as always, is the exercise of flabby think-for-yourself muscles.”

I try to help my students exercise these muscles by using crap detection’s handy acronym, C.R.A.P. An unforgettable tool to assess the veracity of online information, C.R.A.P. is a set of four questions you can ask yourself whenever you encounter something dubious online. Variations can be found all over the internet, and here are mine:

Currency
• How current is the information?
• How recently was it was posted? Has it been updated?

Reliability
• How reliable is the information?
• Does the author provide references or sources?
• What proof do you have that the information is reliable?

Author
• Who is the creator or author of the information? What are her credentials?

Purpose/Point of view
• What is the purpose of this information? Is it intended to inform, entertain, or persuade?
• Does the information sound like fact or opinion? Is it biased?
• Is the creator or author trying to sell you something?

Personally, I rely on the C.R.A.P. test a lot. Like most people, I’m a sucker for salacious headlines. But if they seem suspicious, I give them the test (please bear in mind, online misinformation is nonpartisan, examples exist on both sides of the political aisle). Here’s one example:

One day while scrolling through my Facebook feed, a friend’s post caught my eye. The headline she shared read: “Shock Revelation: Obama Admin Actively Sabotaged Gun Background Check System.” Intrigued, I clicked on the article and discovered it was posted on a website called Conservative Tribune. While the website and article appeared current enough, neither seemed entirely reliable. The site was full of clickbait headlines sporting words like “vile,” “stunner,” and “disgraced.”

I checked out the author, and his humorous bio and few Twitter followers (only three people when I checked) made me wonder if he was a true journalist. So, I looked up Conservative Tribune on “Media Bias/Fact Check.” This is a media bias resource site—one of many online—that claims to be an independent outlet “dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.”

There I learned that Conservative Tribune is a “questionable source” that “exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, overt propaganda, poor or no sourcing to credible information and/or is fake news.” I also discovered that the site “consistently fails fact checks, glorifies violence against Americans and Muslims,” and more. Finally, a scroll back through the Conservative Tribune website revealed a distinct purpose and point of view.

The article seemed like crap to me.

Back on Facebook, I returned to where the article was posted and in the upper right-hand corner selected “Report Post.” A box popped up that read, “Help us understand what’s happening,” under which I selected “It’s a false news story.” Facebook presented me with some options. I could block, unfollow, or unfriend the person who posted the story. I didn’t select any of those options, because I don’t want to end up in a filter bubble. Instead I selected “Mark this post as false news” and was done.

This entire process didn’t take much longer than it took you to read what steps I completed. It felt good, too! It’s the small part I can play to help curb the flow of fake news stories online. I encourage my students to take action when they see false information online, too. It’s important for them to use their critical thinking muscles and to feel like empowered digital citizens.

You can find Diana’s book wherever books are sold. Here’s a link to it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ENCwcV

If you’d like to learn more about Diana, you can find her at Cyberwise.org and Dianagraber.com. And you can learn more about her cyber civics course here: Cybercivics.com

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Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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