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Critical thinking

The power to question things you find online

How do you tell what’s real or what’s fake? Or why someone has posted something? What can you do to identify fact from opinion?

Audio

This video is a dramatic scenario used to encourage critical thinking about content that is seen online.It features an adult male, and a teenage male and female. They are played by actors.

A close up of a mobile phone screen shows a message from Joseph “Check this out! Is this for real?” and a link to a video.

The unidentified person holding the phone replies “Seems legit. Let’s do this! (smiley face)”

oseph replies “Defs ... stream it (smiley)

The video is played on the mobile phone. Words on the video say “Big Red Dog STUNTMAN”. It shows an athletic man climbing over the handrail of a bridge.

He jumps off the bridge.The camera shows a first person view of the fall.

The camera looks back up at the top of the bridge.The man gets up safely and celebrates to the camera.

A girl now stands at the bottom of a different bridge watching the end of the stunt video on her mobile phone. She is holding up the mobile phone and comparing the video to the bridge in front of her.

A shot from the top of the bridge shows the girl and a boy (Joseph) looking up at the bridge and gives perspective of how high the bridge really is.

The girl and Joseph look up assessing the situation.

Joseph walks up the stairs to the top of the bridge and worryingly peers over the edge.

The girl stands at the bottom of the bridge holding her phone up, ready to video the jump.

She pulls the phone down and looks concerned.

A thought bubble appears “That’s a huge drop...”The girl looks up at Joseph standing behind the bridge railing, and imagines a character standing beside him who climbs over the railing and jumps off the bridge.

She imagines bones breaking and flying, and blood splattering everywhere.She is really worried and looks up at Joseph still standing on the bridge.

Joseph looks over the edge of the railing, a thought bubble appears “Ummm... Wait, hang on...”The camera shows clouds passing over and a train going by, indicating the passage of time.

Joseph appears standing at the edge of railing on top of the bridge. He reaches out and drops a watermelon over the edge of the railing with the girl watching from the bottom.

The camera looks down from the top of the bridge at the watermelon falling onto several boxes on the footpath. The watermelon smashes into pieces and the boxes and watermelon go flying everywhere.

The camera looks up from inside the box.The girl and Joseph open the box to assess the damage of the watermelon inside.

Text appears on screen “I question things.” The girl reaches into the box and pulls out a broken piece of watermelon and looks at Joseph with relief.

Logo shows the Australian coat of arms above the words Australian Government, and the eSafety Commissioner with the web address esafety.gov.au

The power to question things you find online

Anyone can publish something online but it might not always be what it seems.

How do we know what we see online is true?

  • Is this a reputable, safe, helpful source?
  • Do you trust everything you read online?
  • Does it seem too good to be true? 
  • Is everything we see online always realistic? 

U can … find out if something is untrue by reading the post carefully and then double checking information through your own web searches.

This can reveal the facts of the story and not the information the author wants you to believe. Is the language based on facts? Or opinion? Do the images look real? Or photoshopped? Is important information missing? Are they trying to persuade you by using celebrities or famous people?

U can … search the top or bottom of an article to find out who the author is.

Genuine authors put their name to their work and usually have a social media presence or other information available through web searches for you to learn more about their experience and motivations.

U can … look up an author’s other work through your own web searches.

By clicking on their name in the article a list of their other stories and a personal bio may come up. A web search of their name can also provide more information.

U can … check if an article is reliable by looking at what website it is posted on.

Is the article from a genuine news organisation? Is it just an opinion? Who is responsible for the website? Is the site trying to influence you or sell you something?

U can … check how recent material is by looking for the date it was published — usually located near the title or at the bottom of the page.

More up to date information may provide current answers. You can also seek more recent opinions through your own web searches.

U can … check other sources to see if there are different opinions on the topic.

Informing yourself ensures that you have the most accurate and up to date knowledge. This could be through web searches, online newspapers, news and media. You can also talk to friends, family and other people in your community to see what they think about a subject.

U can … check information using a website that’s made to check for facts.

Websites like factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com or snopes.com look for online scams, made up stories, rumours and urban myths.

U can … think about the person’s motives behind the information they are sharing.

People can put or say virtually anything online so remember that it might not always be true. Think about the reasons for the article or post. Are they just trying to push their own views or have a hidden agenda? Are they being honest or factual about the topic? Or are they trying to persuade you? Change your views?

U can … think before you repost something or follow groups or pages.

Consider the consequences of posting or sharing information you find in groups or pages. Is what they are saying too good to be true? Is the information genuine or accurate? How could your photos be used or shared by other people? Could your post impact your reputation?

U can … be cautious of the motivations and identities of people you meet or interact with online.

Is it likely to be too good to be true? Could it be harmful, and can you trust the person who shared it? Be aware of people who try to influence you to behave in unsafe or illegal ways. People might not always have your best interests at heart. Think carefully about what they are offering—is it really right for you?

U can … be aware of the types of misleading or deceptive material available online.

Be alert to things like fake news, propaganda, hoaxes, trolls, ‘catfishing’, and scams. Know what these things are and what they might look like. People can try to influence you by saying things like ‘everyone is doing it’, blaming or judging other groups of people, trying to convince you life will be perfect by doing something, or forcing you to take a stand between two different beliefs or opinions.

U can … reflect on how you make decisions and good choices.

Use the same logic and judgement you would in ‘real-life’ to make decisions online. It’s important to make the right decision for you. It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. It’s also okay to change your mind.

U can … remember that you may not be able to tell for sure if something is real or fake.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you get it wrong sometimes. There is always something you can do — it’s never too late. There are people who can help.

Some expert advice

  • Report false or illegal content. There’s more info about how to do this in our eSafety Guide.
  • Talk to Kids Helpline (for ages 5 to 25 years) — you can chat confidentially about anything big or small. You don’t have to deal with it alone.
  • If you don’t think you can trust the information or poster, then don’t repost, comment, or reply to them. Delete any false or misleading information from your own social media accounts or blogs.
  • Speak to a trusted friend or adult — they may provide you with a new viewpoint or ideas for how to resolve your questions or worries.
  • If it’s serious, report it to the police. If someone online is pressuring you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, is promoting violent ideas, or trying to convince you to go against your family or friends, talk to someone you trust. It’s never too late to get help.
  • Block users if you feel that they pose a risk to you or others, or if they are being aggressive and trying to force their own ideas onto you.

Key words

Fake news: false information that has been made up, and created to make it look like trustworthy news reports.

Propaganda: information used to promote one side of a point of view to influence people’s opinions. This can be used for positive or negative purposes. It is information that has been specifically chosen to give one side of a story.

Hoax: deceiving people with fake information or stories.

Trolls: people who deliberately post inflammatory messages in online communities to provoke other users.

Catfishing: to lure someone into a relationship, via social media, by using a fake online identity.

Scams: using internet services to defraud victims or take advantage of them. You can get more information from Scamwatch or the Australian Federal Police.

Resources for teachers

This page is part of the Young and eSafe classroom resource.

For lesson plans and other information go to Young and eSafe: about this resource