Fake News – The Governement’s new guidance

Fake News – the Government’s new guidance

I was discussing plans with a young person to explore parts of the UK they had never been before.  When I pulled out a Road Atlas for her, she commented how quaint that was.  It reinforced to me how much life has changed.  Paper maps, newspapers, letters, cheque books and even money are almost things of the past.  Young peoples’ lives are, to a large extent, lived, researched and organised online.

In this new reality, the Government’s new guidance on online safety* rightly identifies the need to teach pupils how to evaluate what they see online.  There are many scenarios in which this is important for their safety:  an obvious priority is recognising grooming or radicalisation; distinguishing between well-informed, health websites and those where there is either a commercial motivation or dubious advice is another.  In addition to this is the whole issue of fake news.

The growth in social media usage (and the way that it can be monetised) has both enabled and encouraged the proliferation of fake news.  Online anonymity, fake profiles and automated bots all contribute to the spread of disinformation but ordinary social media users, including children, who onward share such content, also unwittingly play a part.

Social media platforms and teaching fake news

As social media platforms have increased the number of fact checkers trying to counter this growth, so the producers of fake news have become better at evading them.  Facebook’s Community Standards Enforcement Report** shows that over 2 billion fake accounts were removed by it in the first quarter of this year alone.  In addition, fake news stories are likely to become harder to detect as a result of Deepfake technology.  This is being developed using artificial intelligence to produce increasingly realistic voices and images.  It is now possible to analyse and mimic an individual’s speech, seamlessly blend a face onto a different body (used in fake porn amongst other things), or convincingly synchronise lip movements to match words allegedly being spoken.

It is human nature to be intrigued by shocking stories, especially about public figures, but most of us retain a healthy scepticism of unlikely stories from doubtful sources.  Children, on the other hand, with their limited life experience are more vulnerable to believing what they read, hear or see, and need help to recognise the possibilities that online content has been faked or manipulated.  Fake news is not harmless; it contributes to social division, which can fuel extremism and violence as well as risking a society where truth can be dismissed as “fake news” and where no-one believes anything, because they can’t be sure what is true and what is not.

There are a number of clues that children can be taught to look out for, such as checking the source, the style of language, checking other news sites for collaboration, date and fact checking, but this on its own is not enough.  In addition, they need to be aware of the growing capability to alter voices and images in a realistic way.  We need teach a healthy scepticism (especially of items supporting unlikely, extreme or political views) and an awareness of the motivations (including those of foreign powers who seek to sow discord in our communities) that may be behind online posts.  We need to help them develop skills of thoughtfulness, reflection and reasoned debate so that they question the views they are presented with and consider alternatives.  We also need to make them aware that by ordinary users sharing fake news with their friends, they are helping to spread the problem and potentially damaging their own society in doing so.

This will be a challenging topic for schools to address but one that is important to prepare our children for their changing world.



(These figures include fake accounts created for all reasons, not just to spread fake news).

Personal Information – How safe is yours?

Personal Information – How safe is yours?

At Gooseberry Planet, we deal with hundreds of schools every day.

What I am noticing more and more is the number of teachers’ email addresses that are getting hacked.  I must receive 10 emails a day from teachers which contain an attachment with a Purchase Order? or payment information and a link to follow.  I know that these have been generated by an account that has been hacked.

Are we really taking enough care to protect our passwords and our personal information?  Once a person has access to our email accounts, they have the freedom to access ANY of our accounts and reset passwords.  As a school you should ensure that all staff are aware of the risk of being hacked.   v Phishing emails are commonplace and look so innocent.  They ask you to follow a link and enter your personal information.  Pop-up ads may do the same, perhaps masquerading as a genuine company but in fact using malware to re-direct you to a different website altogether, which then misuses the information that is unwittingly divulged.   I know school networks have been put down completely due to one member of staff not being vigilant.  Staff should know never to enter personal information via a link – always go to the website directly, check that it uses securely encrypted messaging (shown by “https” in the web address) before sending personal details.

I am also noticing how many staff use their personal email for work and work email for personal bits.  This should really be discouraged.  Some teachers also use their school email to access private apps on school networks.  These Apps, if not from reputable sources, can also pose a security risk to your network.   This is a particular concern to schools in light of their responsibilities for data protection.

The first line of defence for any organisation is passwords.

Staff should know how to set a strong password (you would be amazed how many people use “123456” or “password”).      I do love our password system in the Gooseberry Play.  We are already teaching children as young as 5 to generate passwords that have 3 words in.  You might think, how on earth do you teach a 5-year-old to do this?    Well, we use pictures.  For example, bluedog5, is a picture of the colour blue, a picture of a dog and the number 5.  Teachers love this and so do the students but best of all, it is the beginning of the educational process about how to stay safe online.

The irony is that we are teaching our children how to protect their data when many staff seem not to know themselves.  I know that 71% of teachers use Facebook and this platform (and others) there are often quizzes.  People seem unable to resist answering questions that are often quite simplistic and offer very little informed feedback to the user.  Be wary of these.   They may ask questions about your children’s names, your star sign, your pet’s name, your favourite colour.  They are collecting personal information which can be useful to criminals trying to guess passwords in order to hack accounts.  Resist the urge to complete online quizzes!

This month’s alert is about Personal Information and advice on how to protect it.  As usual, we offer this advice to Students, Parents and Teachers, all with conversation starters.

Interesting facts for social media & personal information

BBC article

More than £190,000 a day is lost in the UK by victims of cyber-crime, police statistics show.

More than a third of victims in that period fell prey to the hacking of social media and email accounts.

Action Fraud said £34.6m was reported to be stolen from victims between April and September 2018, a 24% increase on the previous six months.

The City of London Police, which runs Action Fraud, has warned people to keep separate passwords for online accounts.

The figures show 13,357 people in the UK reported cyber crimes over six months.

More than 5,000 of those people were hacked via their social media and email accounts, costing victims £14.8m.