Guide on how to protect yourself from Fake News
Today, a little less technical but very "safe" topic, which is false information, or what most of you know as Fake News.
What do we mean by 'Fake news'?
Fake news is nothing more than information and commentary that we come across every day in various media – it appears to be true even though it is not based on any reliable sources. Fake news is all sorts of stories, news or mystifications that have been created to mislead or deceive the recipient deliberately. These stories can be created for various purposes – from satirical, to being a profitable business, to influencing people’s political views or causing confusion. Fake news is really about disinformation, manipulation and distrust in various editions. It can influence people by using widely read news and catchy headlines. They can look like a natural source of information, and it is not uncommon for them to use similar names and websites as reputable news portals.
Fake news is nothing new – history enthusiasts may remember the military tactics used in world wars where a supposed attack on one target (moving the defenders there) was deliberately revealed to attack another. In recent times, through the growth of social media and its information overload, Fake news has become a problem not only for users but also for the social media owners themselves. An example of this is Facebook, which launched its internal program in 2017 to detect false information and label it accordingly.
We can even divide fake news into several categories:
- So-called clickbait: a widely read, sensational title designed to encourage us to go to the site, increasing the number of visitors as it translates into advertising revenue.
- Satire/parody: our native example is an ash-journal.
- Propaganda or media aimed at a particular political 'option'.
- Sloppy journalism: reporters even in reputable editorial offices often make mistakes, want to promote themselves on unreliable information or release news without checking all the facts.
So now we understand what fake news is, how do we fight it? The fact that this is a severe problem is shown by the actions taken by institutions around the world:
- The Polish Press Agency has launched a site to combat disinformation (primarily in the context of SARS-CoV-2. This is a browser plug-in that is being created to verify information about the epidemic easily.
- There are other portals, e.g. https://fakenews.pl/ or on a global level: https://www.truthorfiction.com/, which verify suspicious headlines.
- It is also worth verifying which fake news was the most read each year on different platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, you can find this here: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/facebook-fake-news-hits-2018.
How should we protect ourselves against fake news?
We recommend applying this well-proven mechanism to fight against Fake news:
- Be sceptical: Fake news stories usually have well-read titles, very often in capital letters. If something is incredibly shocking and appears to be untrue, it usually is.
- Are you sure it’s not satire?: Sometimes fake information can be a joke. However, it happens that Fake news is much more serious information. Let’s verify this by using services that fight against Fake News.
- Verify the sender: Look carefully at who the sender is, whether it is a real agency or, for example, their address is only very similar. You can also verify that the website is not on a list of sites spreading Fake news.
- Check the source: Many fake news sites cite a source – verify that there is no problem from the previous point.
- Verify the evidence: As with the quoted source, it is worth verifying the evidence or research cited by the author of the information and whether the basis of this evidence is a reputable institution or, for example, an unknown researcher.
- Pay attention to linguistic correctness: Particularly in English-language news situations, check for errors – reputable editors will not allow themselves to release important information with typos or quickly correct them.
- Focus on pictures: Often fake news includes various types of alterations of old photos or, for example, attributing an image to a completely different situation than the one presented in the information. In such cases, it is good to look for the source of the photo, and if it is a digital image, search for it, e.g. via a browser and see if it does not appear in a different context.
- Verify dates: In Fake News, the timeline is very often wrong. The chronology of events often does not make sense.
- Compare information: This is probably one of the most essential points in the guide. Has similar information also appeared elsewhere? Please pay attention to whether it is not a so-called copy-paste, but precise information on the same topic with the same facts.
- Fake news works because of the reach: This is perhaps not so much an advice on how to detect fake news, but how to fight it – remember that it also depends on us whether the fake news spreads further. Very often we share it on social media, we talk about it and we spread information whose credibility we have not checked in any way. So let’s put some effort into verifying the news we pass on.
Finally, remember that the problem of disinformation is also caused by the overload of information that we are bombarded with every day by all kinds of media – to reduce the risk of Fake News, but also for your mental health, it is worth to limit the amount of information we absorb.