Misleading content 

With more than a trillion unique URLs (website addresses), the internet is a fantastic source of information – a huge library at your family’s fingertips.

But, because anyone can set up a website, create a blog or update a wiki, not all the information is fact and some of it can be misleading. Some people use the internet to promote extreme political opinions and to encourage dangerous behaviour, for example.

What do I need to know about misleading content? 

Young people in particular might take everything they read on the internet at face value – they might find a website on a search engine and fail to assess the quality and accuracy of the information it contains, for example.

Did you know?
According to Ofcom, 32 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds in the UK believe that information on a website listed by a search engine must be truthful.

If your son or daughter is researching a school project, for example, their teacher might suggest useful factual websites but they might also search for other sites themselves. They might not understand that sites like Wikipedia are based on user-generated content – in other words, other internet users have uploaded the information. In some cases, they might come across harmless spoofs but they could also access misleading content that has serious implications.

At the same time, they might turn to the Web to find information for their own personal use – for example, if they have a question about their health or wellbeing. Whilst lots of support organisations have excellent websites, there are also some misleading websites, such as those promoting eating disorders and self-harm. You can find more information about this in our health & wellbeing article.

As part of the National Curriculum, schools in the UK teach students how to check the validity of websites. But that doesn’t mean your son or daughter will always remember to do this, so it’s crucial that you also stress the importance of checking and validating when they’re online.

What action can I take? 

Set up Parental Controls and Safe Search based on your child’s age and maturity – but remember, they might not be 100% effective and they aren’t a substitute for parental supervision

Explain to them that not all information on the internet is fact – some of it might be misleading

Encourage your child to analyse and be critical about what they find online

Draw up a list of suitable websites together, based on recommendations from friends, teachers and other trusted sources

Get your son or daughter to double-check whether the author of a website they have found is simply publishing their personal views: 1) Look at the website address – if it contains a tilde (~) or the word “users”, it’s likely to be someone’s personal home page; 2) Use easyWhois to look up who owns the website; 3) In a search engine, type in link, colon and the website address (eg link:http://www.vodafone.com) to check the links that lead to the website; 4) Do a Google search on the author to see what other sites they’ve written; 5) Find out when the site was last updated

Read our health & wellbeing article for guidance on bona fide online support organisations if your son or daughter has questions about their physical or emotional health

Where can I go for more information and support?