How to spot and avoid fake news
The rise of fake news has become one of the defining parts of the digital age. Social media has created a situation where it is easy to find, read, and share information. Due to this, many people have stopped questioning the credibility of the material they’re reading.
Often, fake news is inflammatory, misleading, and based on topics that are divisive. Each piece of fake news is a digital powder keg designed to spread misinformation, sow division, and promote in governments and authority figures.
We use social media every day, whether it be for ourselves or on behalf of our clients. Like many of you, this exposes us to a lot of fake news, especially when we’re creating or sharing content. Being able to identify and avoid fake news has never been more important, so we’re going to provide you with a short guide on how to do this.
With fake news becoming so prolific on social media, it’s become an even tougher job managing business accounts day-to-day, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you ever find yourself confused or worried that you might be sharing misinformation, get in touch with us! We can help you create a social media marketing strategy that’ll make sharing and creating content a breeze.
1. Check the website’s credibility
Being able to spot inconsistencies and inaccuracies in a website is a great first step when learning how to identify fake news. There are a few simple things that you can look out for when visiting a website that might help you judge its credibility.
Firstly, take a look at the domain name. Fake news websites often try to appear as if they are legitimate by having a domain name that is close to a well-regarded news source. This could be something like ‘bbc.com.co.uk’. At first glance, it looks like you’re on the BBC website but you’re probably viewing a source that is not credible.
Websites that are entirely independent may feature the same problems with their domain name. Be suspicious of domains that feature odd extensions like ‘.com.co’ or ‘.news.co’.
Another great indicator of a website or article’s quality is the author. Make sure you check who the author is before you start reading the article. If there isn’t an author attributed, be wary. This is a big red flag and one that shouldn’t be ignored.
If there is an author attributed, check to see if they’ve published anything else. Take a look at their contact information too. If their contact email is a gmail address, or they don’t have any verified social media accounts, this is an indication that they may be a fabrication. Similarly, if a little-known website cites a well-known celebrity as the author, you’re probably viewing fake news.
Finally, read the publication/website’s ‘About Us’ page. Well-regarded and established news sources will feature in-depth information on their leadership, mission, vision, and background.
Oh, and be sure that you aren’t viewing a satirical website, like The Onion, before you share that article in outrage! If you’re unsure, google the website first and check whether it’s satirical.
2. Make sure sources/citations are given
When verifying the information in an article, the sources and citations that they give are key to finding out how reputable the article may be.
To start, consider how you found the article. If it appeared in a social media feed, like Twitter or Facebook, you should be cautious. Social media is a breeding ground for fake news, and is often the place where it will be shared the most. Even if the article was shared with you by a family member or a friend, make sure you check its credibility before believing what it has to say.
When you’re reading the article, take note of how many quotes are used. A lack of quotes or sources that contribute to the article can mean that proper research hasn’t gone into it.
Check to see if the information is available on credible websites. If the website is alone in talking about it, it’s probable that the information isn’t valid. The best way to confirm the credibility of information is to use fact-checking websites, which we’ll go into detail about below.
Is the article based on an image or series of images? If it is, you should check that the images haven’t been altered in any way. More and more people have the ability to photoshop images to a convincing degree, so you need to be suspicious of these. A good starting point would be to reverse image search the image through a site like https://tineye.com/. If it doesn’t show up on there, there’s a good chance that the image is a fake.
3. Use fact-checking websites
When viewing an article that you’re at all suspicious about, the best thing to do is to check the allegations that the author is making. Statements that read as factual and scientific should be backed up with rigorous sources and citations.
If you’re ever in doubt, take a look at an independent and well-recognised fact-checking website, such as https://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/ and https://www.factcheck.org/. There are loads of great ones, but make sure that they’re internationally-recognised as a credible fact-checker.
These sites are indispensable when it comes to sniffing out fake news articles. Often, you can disprove a statement or source immediately through the use of websites and databases like these.
4. Don’t ignore poor-quality writing
One of the first things to look out for is the quality of the writing in the article. Are there spelling mistakes? Grammatical errors? Use of all caps, internet abbreviations, or other conversational language? In most cases, you should avoid the article. Reputable news sources have high standards for proofreading and would probably not accept article submissions featuring any of the above.
Typically, articles like this are written by someone with no editorial overview. This means that they’re writing their opinions with little to no properly-cited or sourced research.
Another smaller thing to lookout for, which often catches some readers unawares, is the date on the article. Many older pieces can be taken out of context if shared several years, or more, after their intended release date. Is the article missing a date? Avoid it. It could have been written at any time and you can’t know the context of the article without a proper date attached to it.