The theme for Safer Internet Day 2021 is, ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in the online world’ with the slogan ‘Together for a better internet.’ This year, the UK Safer Internet Centre is encouraging everyone to join together to make the internet a safer and more reliable place. Although the internet has a wealth of information, not all of it is accurate. Fake news can come from many sources and is not always that easy to spot. That’s why it is important for young people to understand how to evaluate the reliability of information online.

How can teachers help?

The UK Safer Internet Centre defines some key skills to support pupils when deciding what to trust online:

  • Question and challenge information they believe to be false or harmful

Questioning is key for identifying where information may be false. Ask your pupils if the information can be verified elsewhere, if there are sources listed and how credible the source is, e.g. if it was someone giving medical advice, do they actually have the relevant medical experience to do so?

  • Have strategies to spot and speak out against this kind of information

By embedding questioning, pupils can build strategies to spot false or harmful information. However, they also need strategies for how they can speak out. It is important to share with them where and how they can report false or harmful information and for them to have trusted adults they know they can ask for help. Ask your pupils if they have knowingly come across false or harmful information and what they did. They may have some really valuable experiences to share with each other and this will also help you identify any misconceptions they have.

  • Understand the impact influence, persuasion and manipulation can have on our decisions and opinions

Firstly, it is important that your pupils understand what influence, persuasion and manipulation are. To support this, give real life examples. Look at how information can change as it spreads and how, as the information grows in popularity, it can increase influence, even if it has not been proven to be true. Look at how information can be used to persuade and manipulate, to help your students spot the warning signs.

  • Understand the emotional impact of misinformation

Look at how misinformation (particularly about a specific individual) can have an emotional impact. If your pupils can understand how it would feel if false information was spread about themselves or those close to them, this will help them think more carefully before sharing information about others.

  • Know how they can support their peers

It can be difficult at times for pupils to speak up to an adult, especially if they have had an issue about something they should not have been using. For example, I had a Year 2 pupil in my class that had an Instagram account. As he knew he should not be using it due to his age, he had not told an adult about the problems he had on the app, but he did tell his friend. His friend told me, as she was concerned for him and wanted help. I was then able to talk to the pupil about it so we could resolve the situation and so I could help him understand why it wasn’t appropriate for him to use it. If his friend had not had the skills to support him and understood that it was important to ask for help, then I may not have known, let alone been able to help him.

Where can teachers access support?

Internet Safety Day is not about just one day of the year; it’s about encouraging continuous work to keep young people safe online. Digital citizenship skills need to be taught over time as a key part of the curriculum. Cross-circular learning is also important, e.g. if researching a writer in a English lesson, pupils should be learning how to discern which information is accurate. However, teachers cannot be expected to teach these skills without first having the knowledge themselves. As well as seeking support from your school in any relevant training and resources that you may need, here are some other places you can refer to:

How can EdTech companies like NetSupport help?

NetSupport continues to work with schools to include tools in our solutions that support teaching digital citizenship skills and to help safeguard pupils online. For example, NetSupport DNA has many safeguarding tools for schools. Some of these features include keyword and phrase monitoring, contextual intelligence-based risk alerts, concern reporting (can be done by both students and teachers), trending topics via a word cloud, history of student concerns, ability to reassign concerns to another member of staff (e.g. Child Protection Lead), option for safeguarding staff to flag students that are ‘at risk’ to enable closer support.

Additionally, NetSupport School and enable teachers to keep an eye on their students’ activity as they learn, set ‘approved’ and ‘restricted’ lists, lock screens and more. These tools are not only useful for safeguarding but also to support blended learning approaches and to minimise distractions during lessons.