New Lie Detectors study highlights digital divide between young and old

Video is king, Facebook and Twitter are a thing of the past for schoolchildren, and most pupils have problems telling the difference between real and junk news, according to Lie Detectors’ latest study.

The findings shine a light on the social media habits of schoolchildren and the threat of disinformation they face. The study reveals that younger users are flocking to more visual-based platforms such as Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat.

The report, titled Tackling Disinformation Face to Face: Journalists’ Findings from the Classroom, gathers the feedback resulting from activity with more than 8,500 schoolchildren in Belgium, Germany and Austria, as well as 120 journalists and 260 teachers. The forms were collected at the end of over 400 classroom visits in 33 cities organised by Lie Detectors over the past two years to initiate a discussion about the challenges of disinformation and the functioning of ethical journalism with young people, helping them thereby to become media-literate critical thinkers.

In an external contribution to the report, Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the architect of the international educational PISA rankings, said:

Lie Detectors is an example for how we can teach children to distinguish between credible and untrustworthy sources of information, between fact and fiction, and how we can enable them to question or seek to improve the accepted knowledge and practices of our times.

The study found that:

  • There is a striking digital divide between teachers and their pupils. While almost half the teachers (49.6%) use Facebook, it is the least-used platform among schoolchildren (11.9%). Visual platforms such as YouTube (88%) Instagram (60%) and Snapchat (49%) dominated amongst youngsters.
  • Schoolchildren are far more likely to use platforms with visual content than their teachers and this was reflected in their preference for that type of content during the session. Anecdotal reports from journalists outline how pupils barely engage with the accompanying text.
  • Disinformation does not discriminate. 95% of journalists said that at least one pupil in a class fell for a fake regardless of the socio-economic background of the school.
  • Teachers are willing but often under-resourced to teach media literacy. 80% of teachers said they understand the importance of teaching kids to spot fakes on social media. But less than half said they had discussed the topic with their classes.

The digital divide proved stark to many journalists who took part in the sessions. “There is a world which I as a journalist – but mostly everyone above 18 years old – doesn’t know at all … YouTubers, Gamers, etc,” said one Austrian journalist.

Even among schoolchildren there is a pronounced split. The report found that while on average both teens and pre-teens use three social platforms, Lip-syncing video app TikTok was used much more among 10-11 year-olds than among 14-15 year-olds. The older pupils were particularly fond of Instagram with more than three quarters using it – twice as high a proportion as 10–11 year-olds.

Overall, the sessions were well received by participants. Nine out of ten schoolchildren reported better understanding journalism and the role and dangers of disinformation. And 95% said they enjoyed the session. Teachers were glad that a journalist led the session, with less than 2% saying the reporter’s presence was not important.