Five quick tips to identify fake news shared on social media

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It’s no longer news that online users are faced with the perennial problem of fake news as they surf the internet or navigate various social media platforms. But knowing how to identify what can be labelled as fake news is an essential skill in recent time, especially if you’re a Millennial or Gen Z.

But, what is fake news?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, fake news are false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views (i.e. in form of propaganda) or as a joke.

Fake news can be classified into misinformation, disinformation and mal-information (MDM). Things that makes a news story fake include information that is not and can not be verified, pieces written by non-experts, information that cannot be found on any credible website, stories that appeal to the readers’ emotion rather than stating facts and information that comes from phishing websites.

Proliferation of fake news is not a new or recent occurrence, fake news is as old as the media itself. But the influx of social media platforms have made it easier for the spread of fake news to thrive, thus making it hard for people to decipher facts from fake news on the internet.

This is majorly as a result of individuals solely relying on social media for news rather than the traditional media.

Due to the evolution of fake news from traditional media to digital and social media, it can now be categorized into various forms which include click-bait, propaganda, biased news, imposter content and misleading headlines etc.

All of these employ elements of MDM narratives such as exaggerated content, mal-information, biases and misleading headlines. Below are five quick tips to identifying false information shared on social media platforms:

 

Tips to identifying fake news on social media

1. Poor Grammar

When a message is written with poor grammar and lexical structure, there’s a high chance that the message is a misinformation piece. Authors of misinformation know that most readers do not dedicate time and effort to read posts when browsing through social media; thus, making it easy for readers not to notice misspellings and improper punctuation. It is not that all internet content should be complex, but more about knowing how to identify content that is suspiciously simple. Individuals should therefore take their time to read news posts carefully.

2. Emotional Influence

As humans, it is natural that our emotions influences our mental processes and decision making. Making it easy for purveyors of fake news to exploit our emotions so individuals are not able to decipher whether the content is true or not because they appeal to emotions generating anger, fear or sorrow to cloud their thinking. Readers should take note when reading a post and be able to detect if a post is trying to appeal to their emotions rather than stating facts.

3. Check the web address

When someone sends you a link, check the web address. Most fake news websites have incorrect spellings or incoherent and funny names in their URL. If you are unfamiliar with the website, you can check its “About Us” section. Every legitimate and credible website has that feature. You can also easily learn how to check a website here.

4. Verify the source/check other sources

Are they credible? Are they accountable? Do their content appeal to a specific demographic? Did they cite credible sources? If you are skeptical about the content, a simple Google search would confirm or dissuade your doubts and if other reputable news or media outlets are reporting the story.

5. Reach out to fact-checking organizations

Reports with false information often contain incorrect dates or altered timelines, so it’s a good idea to check when the article was published. Is it a current or old news story? If you have any doubts whatsoever about the facts or sources stated in the story you can reach out to the The FactCheckHub or any other credible fact-checking organization within your geographical entity. These organisations also train individuals to use fact-checking tools in helping them recognize fake news and strengthen their media literacy.

Recently, Meta and Twitter have devised a method to prevent misinformation on their platforms. Instagram and Facebook, both owned by Meta, have a new “false information” label to combat disinformation. After a false/misleading verdict has been declared on claims and posts reviewed by fact-checking organizations, they flag it with a label to notify social media users that it contains misinformation. Twitter on the other hand use community notes to guide readers with a link/ source containing factual information if a post turns out to be a disinformation piece.

Fact-checker at The FactheckHub | [email protected]

Seasoned fact-checker and researcher Fatimah Quadri has written numerous fact-checks, explainers, and media literacy pieces for The FactCheckHub in an effort to combat information disorder. She can be reached at sunmibola_q on X or [email protected].

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