So prevalent has the problem become that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have taken to labelling certain kinds of fake news, especially surrounding divisive topics, such as politics or vaccinations. So, what should you do when faced with a potentially fake or sensationalised news article? How can you tell if something is fraudulent? Read on…
Many fake news sites and much of the sensationalist media rely on people taking things at face value, or on eliciting an emotional reaction with a headline; often outrage. These kinds of stories have been given the informal nickname of “outrage bait” – because that’s just what they do.
Calm, critical thinking is key. If something sounds absurd, or makes you feel outraged, it may be fake, or potentially reported incorrectly. Likewise for something that sounds too good to be true or something you wholeheartedly agree with or condone. The stronger of an emotional reaction you have to it, the more you should question it. Fact checking websites like FullFact.org or FactCheck.org can help with this, but the best solution is of course to read around the subject, checking as many articles from reputable sources as possible.
It’s easier than ever for anyone to self-publish an article online claiming to be ‘news’, when in reality there may be very few facts present, or the data may have been ‘cherry-picked’ or presented in such a way as to make differences appear more drastic than they actually are.
The best defence against this kind of fake news is to check multiple, credible sources. There are some news agencies known to present facts in a clearer and less sensationalised manner, such as the Associated Press, Reuters, or BBC News. Opinion articles should be clearly labelled as such and not presented as facts. No news source can claim to be 100% impartial and unbiased – as the articles are still written by people who, whether they admit it or not, will always have a bias – however, there are some sources, mentioned above, who try to present information with much less bias than others, in as neutral a way as possible.
Some sites have been known to “pretend” to be BBC News or Reuters, by using their logo and brand identity to gain credibility and get people to share. Make sure you’re on a genuine website by looking at the page address and checking for misspellings, searching for the article you’re reading online, or using official apps.
Next week we’ll continue on with some more helpful information to help you combat fake news.