Scouts will be taught to spot fake news and watch out for sponsored celebrity-endorsed products on social media as the organisation looks to better reflect the challenges faced by young people in 21st century life.
The revamped “Digital Citizen Badge” has been designed to teach scouts how to manage cyber bullying, protect their personal data and boost their CVs as Chief Scout Bear Grylls urges them to “develop skills for life”.
Tasks include interrogating “bogus bulletins” where pictures or stories have been shared across the world, but are not actually true. One example given is a photoshopped image of a shark swimming down a motorway in Texas after a hurricane, which was seen by at least 14 million people.
More advanced scouts will be asked to create a digital version of the Scout Law and debate about contentious issues, where opinion is polarised online.
The new programme comes after an Ofcom study found last year that just over 50% of 12 to 15-year olds said that they felt it’s difficult to work out whether news on social media is accurate or not.
The scouts have been given three top tips for spotting fake news: Look at the source, ask questions and evaluate the evidence.
Under particular scrutiny are celebrities and social media sites. Advice says: “Does that source have any vested interests? Are they making money from it? Are they selling something? Why are they making this claim?
“It doesn’t always mean the claim is dubious, but it’s a good place to start. It’s particularly important for channels like Instagram, where lots of celebrities get paid to promote a product. They won’t necessarily look at the evidence, but they’ll say that it’s effective for a fee.”
There are 638,000 scouts in the UK, with over a quarter (182,000) being female. Scout volunteers contribute more than 30 million hours of work each year to their local communities.
While they will continue to promote outdoor activities such as orienteering, a spokesperson told the Telegraph: “Society has changed since 1907 when we started. We need to equip young people to live an active, positive life in 2020.”
Chief Scout, Bear Grylls said: “I am very proud to relaunch the Digital Citizen Badge, so it’s fit for purpose in rapidly changing digital world. I am known for being able to survive in the wild but it’s just as important that young people today have their wits about them when online. Taking part in this badge will help Scouts of all ages make good online decisions. Scouting is all about helping young people develop skills for life and this badge a really good example of our approach to youth work.”
Explorer Scout Charlie white aged 15 from Sheldon in Birmingham said: “It’s really important I learn how to spot fake news that comes in on my smartphone. Sometimes my friends tell me stuff and I think that just can’t be true. Now I know a way to check it and see if it really is true.”
The new course has been produced in conjunction with Nominet, the .uk domain name registry.
Eleanor Bradley, MD of Registry and Public Benefit at the company, said: “Our children’s relationship with technology has changed beyond all measure over recent years and particularly during lockdown as children’s learning has largely moved online and they are spending increasing amounts of time on devices. With the digital and physical worlds so intertwined we wanted to produce a badge to help each Scout be better prepared for the online world – not only for spotting what is true or false, but also how to practically protect themselves and their privacy.
“By encouraging critical thinking, discussion and positive action through the activities, this new Digital Citizen Badge will help arm these young people with a whole host of important skills and increased awareness to better manage issues they may face in both the world online and off.”