- By Yadana Chyu
What is fake news?
Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation spread through traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. This false information is mainly distributed by social media, but is periodically circulated through mainstream media. Moreover fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership, online sharing, and Internet click revenue. Intentionally misleading and deceptive fake news differs from obvious satire, which is intended to amuse rather than mislead its audience.
The relevance of fake news has increased in post-truth politics. For media outlets, the ability to attract viewers to their websites is necessary to generate online advertising revenue. If publishing a story with false content attracts users, this benefits advertisers and improves ratings. Easy access to online advertisement revenue, increased political polarization, and the popularity of social media, primarily the Facebook News Feed, have all been implicated in the spread of fake news, which competes with legitimate news stories. Hostile government actors have also been implicated in generating and propagating fake news, particularly during elections.
As technology develops, the same wear out effect is likely to occur with false information based on fake news and people getting accustomed to it in their daily life. When weird and strange things happen around us, it is no wonder that fake news spreads rapidly like wild fire and it can spread faster than truth online, thanks to media and social network. It is said that a lie will travel around the world while the truth is pulling on its boots, and we can see that it takes time for the truth to be revealed. Every individual, organization, country and national, are facing groundless and false news which are the root causes of the conflicts in the world.
Regarding a fake news on WhatsApp, two men were beaten to death in an incident that occurred in India, where rumours have inspired vigilante mobs to attack visitors accused of being child kidnappers. The victims had stopped by the roadside to hand out chocolates to school children. According to the sayings of the authorities concerned, the killings are being inspired by text messages and videos shared on WhatsApp, which dominates the Indian social media landscape. The encrypted messaging system allows person-to-person or person-to-group communication, making it difficult for law enforcement to monitor or stop the spread of fake stories. The viral messages suggested that kidnappers are abducting the children and harvesting their organs. Some of the messages purported to show video of these kidnapping, while other showed images of dismembered corpses, and claimed that the organ thieves are disguised as beggars.
Another incident happened in Rakhine State, and the spread of false news of that incident had great effect on the conflicts that occurred in the region. But it was clear that most of the news was false. We should take into consideration the original sources and the news intention. Fake news is everywhere—we can see it on the social media feeds and group chats. There is always someone sharing unverified news on child kidnappings, stories of political unrest and the latest cancer scares from often dubious sources. Fake news was even named 2017’s word of the year by Collins Dictionary, which describes it as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”.
Being able to spot fake news is a crucial part of digital literacy and an important aspect of life in the digital age as well. Here are some tips from the Reader’s Digest and other sources on how to spot fake news:
Check the website and quality of the articles
Look at where the story comes from and read other articles on the site to see whether they are well written, using correct citations, or are they riddled with grammatical errors? You should make sure that you are on a legitimate news site. Some fake sites use addresses and even logos that are similar to those of real news organizations. For example, abcnews.go.com is real, while abcnews.com.co is not.
Is it the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Sometimes a fake news story can have a sliver of truth to it, but most of the facts and figures are made up. For example, the event and the people mentioned may be real, but the quotes attributed to them and other facts are simply made up. To make sure the report isn’t fiction, search for the same story on several credible websites to ensure nothing has been misrepresented.
Do a Google Reverse Image Search
Upload (drag and drop) a photo to images.google.com to verify where else the image has been used and for what purposes. That will help you decide if a photograph has been doctored or is being falsely presented.
Do some independent research
Check the questionable piece of news against other news sources or fact-checking websites. If the news is about a local kidnapping for example, it would be odd if the story wasn’t covered in your local newspapers.
Make sure it is not satire
If the story is on a satirical website, you should be aware that the intent is humour, not to mislead. These websites publish parodies of news — satirical news stories to make you laugh. So if you are thinking a story is a bit farfetched, check that you are not reading a satirical site like The Onion, or the Borowitz Report in The New Yorker.
Understand when a message is forwarded
Make sure which messages you have been forwarded to, and double check the facts when you are not sure who wrote the original message.
Question information that upsets you
If you read something that makes you angry or afraid, ask whether it was shared to make you feel that way. And if the answer is yes, think twice before sharing it again.
Check information that seems unbelievable
Stories that seem hard to believe are often untrue so check elsewhere to see if they are really true.
Look out for messages that look different
Many messages containing hoaxes or fake information have spelling mistakes. Look for these signs, so you can check if the information is accurate.
Check photos in messengers carefully
It is easier to believe photos and videos, but even these can be edited to mislead you. Sometimes the photo is real, but the story around it is not. So look online to see where the photo came from.
And check links too
It may look like the link to a well-known website, but if there are spelling mistakes or unusual characters, it is usually a sign something is wrong.
Use other sources
Look at other news websites or apps to see if the story is being reported elsewhere. When a story is reported in multiple places, it is more likely to be true.
Be thoughtful about what you share
If you are not sure of the source or concerned that the information may be untrue, think twice before sharing.
You can control what you see
On WhatsApp you can block any number or leave any group you want. Use these features to keep control of your WhatsApp experience.
Fake news often goes viral
Do not pay attention to the number of times you receive the message. Just because a message is shared many times, does not make it true.
References: Reader’s Digest, Wikipedia
Translated by Win KoKoAung