Scouts wanting to fill up their sweater with badges need to work on a new skill: spotting fake news.
Alongside more traditional awards for angling, cycling and orienteering, the ability to root out online lies is now to be included in a relaunched digital citizen badge, after Covid-19 unleashed a torrent of fakery.
The media regulator Ofcom has found that half of adults have been exposed to fake news in the pandemic and now the UK’s 638,000 scouts are to be given the chance to learn how to spot fake news, manage cyberbullying and protect their privacy online.
Scouts, 28% of whom are female, will be asked to debate topics about which there is considerable misinformation online, show that they can spot the difference between facts and opinions and consider how easy or hard it is to know if evidence is reliable or not.
Last year, Ofcom found that more than half of 12- to 15-year-olds said they felt it was difficult to work out whether news on social media was accurate, and many believe Covid has made things worse, as false information has circulated about death tolls and treatments for the virus.
“There’s a lot of fake news going round about coronavirus, people giving false statistics about deaths, and that’s scary when people are coming back into school,” said Charlie, 15, a scout from Birmingham. “I have an autistic friend and I see stuff that’s not true on social media and I worry for her that she will be upset by it. I have told her to come to us first and we can help.
“The amount of fake news out there is quite impressive,” said Sam, 14, from Doncaster. “Young people can be easily deceived and we need the skills to know whether it is real or not. I have seen what it can do to people and how it knocks their confidence.”
The badge has been relaunched by the chief scout and TV explorer, Bear Grylls, who said it needed to be “fit for purpose in a rapidly changing digital world”.
“I am known for being able to survive in the wild,” he said, “but it’s just as important that young people today have their wits about them when online.”
The badge will also require Scouts to investigate how people from different backgrounds interact online and to consider if the people they interact with with most are similar to them or different in terms of gender, ethnicity and interests and what impact that might that have on the views and opinions they see and believe.