Your kids can’t tell the difference between online advertising and content

by Emily Malone
January 17, 2017

Offline, it’s easier to tell the difference between what is an ad and what is the content. For television and radio, the loudest segments are the ads, and it’s in a commercial break. In print, you can see the ads as they are bright and colourful compared to the reams of text.

But in online where views and attentions equates to revenue publishers, apps and media sites – kids might be the unlikely pawns in a marketplace where confused clicks still equals cash.

But as this generation grows up thinking that the internet is the font of all knowledge, how do we make sure our kids understand that not all information you find online is true and that a lot of it is paid? Tony Lee talks to Juice 107.3FM radio.


Juice 107.3FM: We’re joined by our resident social media expert Tony from ntegrity. Tony thanks for joining us on the show.

Tony Lee: Good Morning Michael!

Juice 107.3FM: Now there been a study recently that found kids can’t tell the difference between advertising and regular content online.

Tony Lee: That’s right, a study in the UK just found that almost 70% of 12-15 year olds couldn’t tell the difference between Google ads and actual search results. But what was really interesting is that the study found that 1 in every 10 children believed that all the information they encountered on the web – ALL the information – was true.

Juice 107.3FM: Really?

Tony Lee: It’s a bit of a surprise.

Juice 107.3FM: I think there was a great quote recently which I read on Facebook it said “don’t believe anything you read on social media.” And that was said by Abraham Lincoln. Right?!

Tony Lee: Ha! I guess it was a bit of a surprise but at the same time I guess this generation may grow up thinking that the internet is the font of all knowledge and fact, but the reality is that the internet is highly commercialised and the people who pay can be more vocal than those who can’t and that line blurs and it becomes a real problem.

Juice 107.3FM: Do you also think it’s a problem because increasingly we are getting sponsored content. Not necessarily ads like in the past in newspapers and on radio you had to very clearly define this is a paid announcement, this is a commercial. Now there’s paid for blog posts, there’s affiliate links, all those sort of things.

Tony Lee: That’s right! The word trust comes up time and time again in recent studies in all the major news sites. Studies are showing that it’s being eroded with the impact of more advertising creeping into editorial content. Advertising and editorial content has to co-exist, but it is necessary to have clear indicators between the two. Because on the extreme side we might develop a generation that accepts anything they read online or inversely a generation that are cynical about everything.

Juice 107.3FM: That’s true, how can we teach kids to walk the line between those two extremes?

Tony Lee: Well we know that kids are naturally trusting, so what parents can do is to teach kids that not everything they read online is true. But give them some practical advice and some tools to help them tell what is true and what isn’t, make it a game for instance. Ask them to look for the ads on every page, ask them to identify them, ask them to see if they can pick out the brand name in the material they are seeing. Advise them to look for clues like buttons in ads, look for the word ‘ad’ or sponsored’ in some of the content. If the child is older encourage them to develop skills to validate their choices by doing more searches. Challenge kids to look beyond page one of Google.

Juice 107.3FM: So basically teach critical reading skills.

Tony Lee: Yeah it’s a very important consideration for kids growing up, we want them to develop their own critical thinking and independent thinking.

Juice 107.3FM: Tony I don’t think this is just a great message for kids, looking through my Facebook feed – I think it’s a great message for all of us really.

Tony Lee: That’s right, I think that’s very true as well with the lines blurring between content and advertising it’s becoming more and more important to develop our own independent thoughts.

Juice 107.3FM: Thank you so much for giving us these tips this morning Tony, we will talk to you next week.

Tony Lee: My pleasure, thanks Michael.