Young child watching YouTube

Google adds disinformation detection to internet safety curriculum

Image credit: Dreamstime

Google has expanded its ‘Be Internet Awesome’ campaign to include a guide to spotting disinformation.

The campaign was launched in 2017 to help parents and educators teach children about internet safety, such as online harassment and privacy. It is taught across the US and is available in nine languages.

The curriculum has now been expanded to help children develop critical thinking skills with regards to disinformation. It teaches children to identify various forms of disinformation, such as fake URLs, misleading headlines, and ‘fake news’ sources. It also encourages children to reach out to their parents or teachers when they encounter something they feel uncertain about online, such as disturbing videos.

It includes six lesson plans and simple educational games, which teach children critical thinking skills. A lesson called ‘Frame It’, for instance, teaches how images and videos can be edited or captioned to remove important context; in recent weeks, videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Representative Ihan Omar have been doctored and released in smear attempts. Another lesson called ‘Is it really true?’ guides children through decisions on whether or not information is credible based on its source and how it was shared.

The extended curriculum was developed in partnership with the Net Safety Collaborative. To coincide with the launch of the new curriculum, Google announced that it would be entering a US-wide partnership with the YMCA, which will involve helping families talk to children about online safety issues.

Google is among the internet giants facing heavy and frequent criticism for its failure to halt the spread of hate speech, harassment and disinformation online. For instance, YouTube’s algorithm – which recommends the most relevant videos to watch next – has been accused of promoting sensationalist videos containing conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation, threatening to send some viewers down radicalising clickholes.

In October 2018, Google signed an EU code of conduct which obliges internet companies to take action to remove fake accounts and bots, promote reliable news sources, provide tools to increase the transparency of political advertising, and limit revenue for accounts and websites found to be peddling lies.

The company has also come under fire from child safety campaigners over the revelation that the comment sections of YouTube videos featuring children have been used to direct users to encrypted messaging groups of paedophiles.

Last week, the Washington Post and New York Times reported that the Federal Trade Commission was investigating Google over the harvesting of children's data on YouTube, which may violate the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

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