With the rise of social media, everyone can share in an instant all types of information. And while this is overall good, it also increases the amount of fake and inaccurate news in our daily life. Social media is great for reaching out quickly, and to a very wide range of people. However, it has a really important downside. Most of the time, people are unable to know the original sources of what they’re sharing or to check it’s trustworthiness. So the question is: how can we identify fake news and stop the spread of misinformation?
How to avoid spreading misinformation?
The only way to identify fake news is to keep a critical mind. It’s easier to believe everything we read, and that’s precisely why fake news spread so easily. Avoiding misinformation demands for us to be constantly thinking, evaluating, and crossreferencing our opinions and sources. It forces us to
This infographic shows 6 easy steps you can take in order to keep a critical mind and spot fake news.
1. Beware of clickbait articles!
In the digital era, clicks and views make money, so it’s no wonder that people are willing to do whatever it takes to get them. And sometimes, this means leaning into some “poetic license” in order to catch the readers’ attention. You’ve probably run into clickbait articles before: At some point, all of us have clicked into a promising headline just to find out the actual news is not really as big as the title led us to believe.
Many times, misinformation spreads from good intentions. You can read a headline and think it has valuable information your social network can benefit from. But if you haven’t read the complete article, you can’t know for sure what the information inside is. Time Magazine assures that people nowadays have an attention span of approximately 8 seconds. And Buffer studies show that 55% of readers spend only 15 seconds or less when reading an article, meaning… they definitely don’t read it on its whole!
There’s nothing wrong with skimming over an article to find out it’s not that interesting. But if you’re planning to share it, it’s important that you take on the responsibility that this implies. People who trust you will on their turn share it with more people, and they will share it on their own, and so on. So, if you’re planning to share an article, make sure to fight the natural laziness and examine its actual content. By being cautious, you’ll be protecting your own reputation by sharing only what you mean to share, while also helping avoid the spread of misinformation.
2. Examine the source
One of the greatest features of social media is that it gives a voice to everyone. And while this is amazing, it also means that anyone can write about anything, even if they’re not knowable enough about a specific topic. It also entails the danger that many times, opinions can be presented as actual facts. This is a great factor that contributes to the spread of misinformation and fake news.
That’s why it’s especially important to check the author and sources where the news come from. A new from an author with expertise in the topic will be definitely more valuable than another written by somebody else. Big news sources are usually trustworthy too, since their main goal is to be as objective and transparent as possible. Since their reputation is on stake, you can usually trust that they’ve gone through a careful investigation about the topic before actually publishing.
Reputation is an incredibly important resource for journalists and news sources because it’s what dictates if people continue to read them o not. So if you can’t find the author’s name or the source where it came from, be suspicious!
3. Crossreference is the key
It might be a bore, but it’s probably the most effective method to fight fake news and misinformation. There are so many news channels nowadays, that chances are that if you see a headline in your social media feed, another source has already covered it too.
Luckily, tools like Google allows out to look for similar headlines in a matter of seconds. A quick google search of the most important keywords will probably give you a quick answer for similar headlines. The “News” tab on Google is an excellent tool, that will allow you to sort the results by date and relevance. You can also use quotation marks in the search bar to make more specific searches. This will make sure that any word you put inside them is directly references in the search results.
Does it mean more work that simply sharing it? Definitely. But take into consideration that it’s in all of us to avoid spreading misinformation. It’s all about responsibility and trustworthiness.
4. Look for cited data
Statistics is an incredible source for complementing news. Showing quantitive numbers is great for giving more impact and more understanding for the public, especially when represented in visual ways. But precisely because of its impact, numbers can be misused to prove a specific point or to mislead the reader. Statistics can be intentionally be taken out of context. And of course, people can always make up their own data.
Our natural instinct may be to assume that quantitative data is reliable, cold, hard facts. But just as anything else, statistics must be verifiable too. Whether it is a percentage or another kind of statistical figure, the source from where this number comes from should de cited. Only then it should be considered trustworthy information.
5. Check the date!
Context is vital when talking about spotting fake news and misinformation. Old articles that were originally reliable can be repurposed and reused to alter the perception of later events. Even when you’re working with reliable, trustworthy news sources, remember to check out the date and location of it. Even if at first sight some news seems to be talking about the same event, you can accidentally spread misinformation by sharing outdated news.
6. Emotional response?
Finally, check your emotional response to the news. Panic-sharing is very common, especially in times of uncertainty. When in distress, people tend to act instead of examining and analyzing first. And many times, fake news benefit from this. Many of them actually try to encourage an emotional response, so you don’t overthink its trustworthiness.
This is usually pretty common in click-bait articles. If the first feeling you got after reading a headline is fear or urgency, chances are you’re not going to read the complete article before sharing it. Examine yourself and your reactions and try to keep a cool head.
What about images and audios?
Images and audios are especially tricky when trying to spot fake news. Shaed links on social media usually redirect readers straight to the sources. But in the last years, messages services (like for example Whatsapp) have contributed greatly to the spread of fake news and misinformation. Images and audios are shared freely through messaging services, and it’s pretty much impossible to find the original source.
The safest route in order the avoid fake news is to straight-up disregard news share through this media. Even images with “official” government and organization logos can be easily counterfeited nowadays. However, it’s easier said than done, and most of the time it’s just too tempting. So, what to do this? There are still some precautions that you can take to prevent spreading misinformation.
In the case of audios, you can still do a quick google search. Summarize the main idea and look for similar headlines in reliable sources. If there’s real information in it, it’ll be featured in other sources too. Remember, always crossreference!
In the case of images, you can also do a google search with keywords that cover its content. But you can also do a reverse image search. Apps like Google Lens or the website TinEye allow you to upload an image and search similar ones. This can be a great tool for finding images’ original sources.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to be careful of what we share on social media. Inaccurate information, like fake “home-tests” or “cures”, can give people a false sense of security that could end up spreading even further the virus and endanger people. Let’s all take of each other by staying safe and staying informed.