While the concept isn’t new – false information and mistruths have been circulating for as long as stories have been told – smartphones, the internet and social media (especially Whatsapp) have given it a new lease of life and a new high-speed distribution mechanism. Back in 2013, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report warned that misinformation could spark “digital wildfires” in our hyper-connected world.
Fake news can be as slippery to define as it is to pin down. Stories may be factually inaccurate and deliberately published to underscore a certain viewpoint or drive lots of visitors to a website, or they could be partially true but exaggerated or not fully fact-checked before publication.
Why fake news goes viral
While articles like this have existed for centuries, modern technology enable them to spread like wildfire, jumping from pocket to pocket and being consumed, digested and shared before anyone’s stopped to consider their accuracy. Sometimes they want you to click on another story or advertisement at their own site, other times they want to upset people for political reasons. There is a range of fake news: from crazy stories which people easily recognise to more subtle types of misinformation. Read these tips to stop fake news from being circulated further.
1. Check the source
Look at the website where the story comes from. Does it look real? Is the text well written? Are there a variety of other stories or is it just one story? Fake news websites often use addresses that sound like real newspapers, but don’t have many real stories about other topics. If you aren’t sure, click on the ‘About’ page and look for a clear description of the organisation.
2. Look for fake photos
Many fake news stories use images that are Photoshopped or taken from an unrelated site. Sometimes, if you just look closely at an image, you can see if it has been changed. Or use a tool like Google Reverse Image search. It will show you if the same image has been used in other contexts.
3. Check if the story is in other places
Look to see if the story you are reading is on other news sites that you know and trust. If you do find it on many other sites, then it probably isn’t fake as many big news organisations try to check their sources before they publish a story.
4. Look for other signs
These include using ALL CAPS and lots of ads that pop up when you click on a link. Also, think about how the story makes you feel. If the news story makes you angry, it’s probably designed to make you angry.
If you find a news story that you know is fake, the most important advice is: don’t share it.