Reading and sharing news online is something we all do every day - but how often do we check our sources? Quite often fake news and manipulated content can be quite tricky to spot.
Since a certain election in the US, “fake news” has become a pretty common phrase - but what does it actually mean? Well, Merriam-Webster states,
“Fake news is frequently used to describe a political story which is seen as damaging to an agency, entity or person. However, it is by no means restricted to politics, and seems to have currency in terms of general news”.
So ‘fake news’ put simply, is a damaging and factually inaccurate news story. Shared by an intentionally fraudulent website, these articles often include a hoax or a sensationalised headline based on current affairs.
With the growth of social media, fake news stories and sites spread like wildfire. Most of the information we consume is online, and people often form their own opinions based solely on this information. So when it’s no longer clear what’s true and what’s not, it can be confusing and cause mistrust.
Facts and opinions in fake news articles
When you’re reading something online, sometimes it can be hard to navigate between the author’s opinions and facts. Both can help you shape your understanding of information - but it’s important to be clear what’s true and what’s not.
If the article you're reading has opinions that are backed up by facts, links and references, it’s generally safe to take the article seriously. If it’s full of outlandish opinions with no factual references, it might be cause for concern!
Some sites such as The Onion intentionally write humorous false stories in a satirical style. Often you can spot these by the exaggerated title - but if you aren’t sure whether the website is genuine or not, always check the About Us page. You will soon find out if the site is sharing genuine news or looking to get a laugh.
It can be fun to trick friends and family by sharing an article with a ridiculous title, but it’s always best to be sure whether it’s a joke or not before you do.
What are platforms doing to combat the spread of fake news?
Social media networks, where most fake news stories circulate, are also doing their bit to combat fake news circulating. Twitter is considering creating a way to ‘flag’ tweets that are false or inaccurate, with the aim of stopping the spread of misinformation on Twitter.
Since the US election, Facebook has been attempting to tackle fake news stories on users newsfeeds. Pages that commonly post fake news articles can now be identified by AI, and will be seen less often on feeds. The platform says one of its newsfeed values is “authentic communication”, and it’s trying to prevent “misleading, sensational or spammy” posts.
Tips on how to spot fake information
Now you know what fake news is, here are our tips for spotting it -
- Does the website you’re reading the story on look genuine? For example, does it just look like a copy of a more authoritative page but without the credibility?
- Does it have a strange ending to it’s website address - like .com.co instead of the usual .co.uk or .com?
- Has the story been reported anywhere else? Does the story corroborate with other sources such as credible mainstream news outlets?
- Google the sources of any quotes and figures used in the article, if you can’t find them or any information on them, that’s a red flag.
If you want to share a piece of news with your friends and family on social media, do a little research to ensure that the link you post is from a credible website - not only will you help reduce traffic to misleading websites, but you’ll avoid awkwardness when your friends realise the story was made up!
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