Where do fake news generators come from?

It's remarkably easy for anyone to create a fake news story. Just like using online tools to customize a birthday card for a friend, you can plug in a fake news story, a fake image, and a fake author and even get a fake URL. Then all you have to do is share it on the internet.

The people who make fake news usually do it to make money by running ads. Those who create such content don't necessarily do it for ideological purposes. Plenty of folks have discovered that outrageous stories, distorted images, and other weird stuff are great "clickbait" and generate profits since people can't resist and then share the unusual news.

But fake news generators are more than a nuisance. Much of the fake news that was generated during the 2017 U.S. election was found to have been created by teenagers in Macedonia and may have influenced people's opinions on the candidates. The teens found that the more hyper-partisan the news they created, the more people clicked on and circulated it, and the more money they made.

It's an unfortunate reality that the same technology tools that can be used to create quality, informative content also can be used to mislead. The proliferation of fake news -- combined with other factors -- has led kids to be extremely skeptical and distrustful of the news, according to Common Sense Media's report, News and America's Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News.

But at the same time, kids care about the news and want to be informed. They say they feel smarter when they read the news. That means we parents have a big responsibility to help our kids develop media-literacy skills. Teaching media literacy in today's world isn't a luxury. Fake news generators and less-well-intentioned folks will always be out there trying to throw curveballs. We may not be able to rout them all out, but we can teach our kids the media-literacy skills they need to be savvy consumers, critical thinkers, informed decision-makers, and confident judges of the information they see and hear.

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