When you see an enticing news story when you’re scrolling through social media, it’s easy to be captivated by its engaging content and imagery.
But the things you read and see on social media may not always be as they seem. Fake news has become prominent in recent years, dressing lies up as fact for unsuspecting users to believe.
It can be hard to weed out a fake, but we have some top tips to keep you in the know…
KEEP IT CRITICAL
One of the main reasons fake news is such a big issue is that it is often believable, which means it’s easy to get caught out.
Many fake news stories are also written to create shock value and garner a response from a reader, whether that be to be upset, angry, or to buy a product that is shown in an unbelievably positive light.
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 so as to not get caught out by lies.
Always ask yourself why a story has been written and if it could possibly be to persuade you of a certain viewpoint. Does it mention any products, and is it trying to get you to click through to another site. If it is, you’re most likely viewing an advertisement rather than cold, hard news.
CHECK THE SOURCE
If you come across a story from a source that you’ve never heard of before, do some digging.
Find out a bit more about the publisher and determine whether it is a professional and well-known news agency or someone’s personal blog.
Read the About Us section of a site for more insight into the publisher, leadership, and mission statement to make sure that you are reading a credible site.
Check the URL of the page, too. Strange-sounding URLs that end in extensions like ‘.infonet’ and ‘.offer,’ rather than ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk,’ or that contain spelling errors, may mean that the source is suspect.
If the information is something that you’ve been told by another person, consider his reputation and professional experience. Is he known for his expertise on the matter, or do they have a personal interest or viewpoint that they are instead trying to convince you of.
WHO ELSE IS REPORTING?
Check whether the story has been picked up by other well-known news publishers.
Stories from organizations like Reuters, CNN and the BBC, will have been checked and verified beforehand.
As a general rule, you should always have at least two reputable sources for a story. If the information you have isn’t from a well-known source like these, there’s a chance that it could be fake.
However, you still need to be wary. People who spread fake news sometimes create web pages, newspaper mockups, or doctored images that look official, but aren’t.
So, if you see a suspicious post that looks like it’s from CNN, for example, check CNN’s homepage to verify that it’s really there.
LOOK FOR QUALITY
If you notice a lot of spelling errors, LOTS OF CAPS or dramatic punctuation, you could be reading fake news.
Reputable sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards that don’t allow for these factors.
Also make sure an older story isn’t being recycled and taken out of context by searching for key facts in your search engine.
CHECK FOR FACTS
A credible news story will include plenty of facts – quotes from experts, survey data and official statistics.
If these are missing or the source is an unknown expert or a friend, question its authenticity.
If what you are reading or viewing cannot prove that something definitely happened, do not believe it.
CHECK THAT IMAGE
Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images that look professional and real.
Research even shows that only half of us can tell when images are fake, so it’s important we remain cautious when it comes to viewing images as truth.
Strange shadows on the image, for example, or jagged edges around a figure can point to a doctored image.
If you still have doubts, you can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check whether the image has been altered or used in the wrong context.
DOES IT SOUND RIGHT?
If a story sounds unbelievable, it probably is.
Bare in mind that fake news is designed to feed your biases or fears. And, remember, just because a story sounds “right” and true, doesn’t mean that it is.
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.
Remain sceptical over all stories you see unless you can prove categorically that they are true. It is better to be safe than sorry in the long run.