We’re bombarded with news headlines every day: when you browse your social media feeds, or click on your favourite bookmarks. It’s a fast-moving world… and a recent YouGov survey suggests the majority of people in the UK can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news.
This is a confusing time for everybody but can be particularly anxiety-inducing for children, especially if they are seeking out information on their own that may not be true. It’s therefore important to engage in conversation and show children how they can check the source of the information themselves and minimise the potential negative impact on their wellbeing.
Back in April 2020, popular social media app TikTok announced that it had introduced an enhanced feature to allow In-App reporting of any misinformation related to COVID-19, a recurring problem for the platform. TikTok has since spent the last few months deleted over 29,000 videos which contained incorrect medical information such as a video which stated confidently and falsely that coronavirus can be killed by drinking hot water with salt-vinegar…
But how did it happen in the first place? The news was once a central pillar of British society, but since 2012, clouds have been gathering. First came the phone hacking scandal, then the Scottish referendum, Brexit and with the last US presidential elections – ‘alternative facts’ became the new news. Donald Trump then pushed the discussion of fake news into the mainstream at his very first press conference, when he accused one of the world’s largest and most respected news organisations, CNN, of being ‘fake’. Suddenly, the entire media industry was accused of being the public enemy. In the UK, we didn’t do much better. There were dodgy numbers painted on Brexit buses, immigrants on posters, and ‘scare-tactics’ at every turn.
So what can be done in these days of post-truth?
Here are six ways to spot fake news, with thanks to fullfact.org
1. Develop a Critical Mindset
One of the main reasons fake news is such a big issue is that it is often believable, so it’s easy to get caught out. Much fake news is also written to create “shock value”. This means it’s essential that you keep your emotional response to such stories in check. Instead, approach what you see and hear rationally and critically.
Ask yourself, “Why has this story been written? Is it to persuade me of a certain viewpoint? Is it selling me a particular product? Or is it trying to get me to click through to another website?”
In truth, the biggest purveyor of fake news are Google and Facebook. Facebook is currently working to rid itself of fake news by ensuring its trending stories are ranked according to the number of organisations covering the story rather than the number of individuals sharing it.
2. Check the Source
If you come across a story from a source that you’ve never heard of before, do some digging!
Check the web address for the page you’re reading. Spelling errors in company names, or strange-sounding extensions like “.infonet” and “.offer,” may mean that the source is suspect.
Be aware that people who spread fake news and “alternative facts” sometimes create web pages that look official, but aren’t. So, if you see a suspicious post that looks like it’s from the World Health Organization, for example, check the WHO’s own site to verify that it’s really there.
Remember, even if you got the story from your best friend, this gives it no extra authority…
3. See Who Else Is Reporting the Story
Has anyone else picked up on the story? What do other sources say about it?
Avoid leaping to the conclusion that all main stream media output is fake.
Professional global news agencies such as Reuters, CNN and the BBC have rigorous editorial guidelines and extensive networks of highly trained reporters, so are a good place to start. But remember that no one is unbiased, and anyone can make a mistake.
4. Examine the Evidence
A credible news story will include plenty of facts – quotes from experts, survey data and official statistics, for example. Or detailed, consistent and corroborated eye-witness accounts from people on the scene. If these are missing, question it!
5. Don’t Take Images at Face Value
Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images that look real. In fact, research shows that only half of us can tell when images are fake. However, there are some warning signs you can look out for. Strange shadows on the image, for example, or jagged edges around a figure.
Images can also be 100% accurate but used in the wrong context. For example, photos of litter covering a beach could be from a different beach or from 10 years ago, not the recent alleged event.
You can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check where an image originated and whether it has been altered.
6. Check That it “Sounds Right”
Finally, use your common sense! Bear in mind that fake news is designed to “feed” your biases, hopes or fears.
For example, it’s unlikely that your favourite designer brand is giving away a million free dresses to people who turn up to its stores.
Tip: Some stories that you’ll encounter will sound “wrong,” but won’t necessarily be fake news. They could be intentional satire or something that comes from a humorous website, like The Onion or The Daily Mash, for example.
Check out ShareVerified, a United Nations’ initiative, which aims to provide content that cuts through the noise to deliver life-saving information, fact-based advice and stories from the best of humanity.
Keep calm, rational and curious. The truth is out there…