Whether intentional or unintentional, spreading misinformation in the mainstream media is nothing new in today's digital world. However, digital technologies have increased the rate of fake news and misinformation because of the evolution of digital media, news outlets, and social networks. On the Internet, fake news has become an important issue for people worldwide. As technology evolves, new methods and techniques are emerging to avoid fake news.
Fake news is often generated to achieve a political goal, such as discredit a specific candidate or weaken the support of a particular side. Besides, people may spread misinformation to create unrest and divisiveness within a community.
It's easy to see why people need help understanding how to avoid misinformation because it's harder to identify. The biggest problem is that many journalists and social media users understand the severity of fake news. Despite that, they share malicious content on Facebook and Twitter for their means.
Different Categories of Misinformation
Fake news or false information can be classified into three categories:
Misinformation is a synonym for incorrect or false information that doesn't intend to harm anyone. You can make misinformation trustworthy by sharing it on your social media platforms. Therefore, it is essential to avoid fake news in your industry.
You can verify fake news through trustworthy sources, facts, and quotes. These examples of fake news are clickbait pages, false websites, memes, YouTube channels with inappropriate thumbnails, and conspiracy theories. There are also cases where photos are taken from social media and modified to make them look original.
Information created to harm a community is called disinformation. A specific group of people creates disinformation to support the agenda of an individual or a political party. It is skewed information with the sole purpose of hurting the community.
Misinformation is also created to trigger an emotional response from people. When the emotions are high, it is easy to react and share misinformation without even realizing it.
How to Spot Fake News
Many professionals find it challenging to identify or avoid fake news in today's digital world. Although people are aware of its consequences, they will be mindful of the news' authenticity once their social media friend or journalist calls that report bogus. You can identify fake news by going through the following steps:
Check the source: You can look at the address of the suspicious website. For example, fake websites may have spelling mistakes in their URL or have less conventional domain extensions, such as .pizza or .infonet. If you have landed on a website for the first time, you can look into the 'About Us' section to check its authenticity.
Check the author: You can research the author to see if they are credible. For example, is the website author real? Are the writers writing in their specific areas of expertise? Do they have an agenda behind their content?
Check external sources: Are other websites or news channels reporting on this news? Are credible sources backing this story? Professional news agencies have editorial guidelines and extensive resources to understand the facts. Hence, it is a good sign if they are also reporting the story.
Have a critical mindset: As we discussed earlier, most misinformation is created to generate an emotional response, such as fear or anger. The best thing to do is to have a critical mindset and ask yourself the reason why this story was written. Is it bringing people from one website to another? Is the story backing an agenda?
Check the facts: If the news is credible, it will contain plenty of facts (statistics, data, expert quotes, etc.). You can ask yourself why these facts are missing from the information. Reports with misinformation usually contain inaccurate data or altered timelines. When a story gets published, you must determine whether it is an old or a new story.
Check the comments: Even if the news article is authentic, the comments can be fake. The comments generated in the comment section could be auto-generated by bots or people hired to post misleading information.
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Check your own bias: We all have biases or analyses regarding different fields. Our bias could influence how we respond to an article. Social media has the feature of suggesting stories that are similar to our habits, areas, and opinions. The more we read these divine pieces of information, the easier it is to draw accurate conclusions.
Check authenticity: There is a chance that images you see on your social media account are modified and manipulated. The possible signs are warning, where the straight lines in the background suddenly become wavy. Apart from that, skin tone and strange shadows look too perfect. You must note that even if the image is accurate, journalists can use it in a misleading context.
How to Avoid Fake News
As you have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, people cannot identify or avoid fake news. No matter what news they receive on Facebook or WhatsApp, they share it with their friends and relatives without any analysis.
The problem is that false information can spread quickly when people don't question the sources. You can easily use the Internet and social media to find information sources. Anyone can publish and share information about anything, even though it can be false. Photographs and videos are used to develop a false narrative or a story.
As a professional, you must look for the following factors to avoid fake news:
Authorship: Who wrote this piece, or who is the author? If you know the journal, you can see whether they add any biases for an individual, company, or institution. What qualifications does the author have regarding this specific field? If the authors have a bad reputation, it is easy to avoid fake news.
Accuracy: You can identify fake news if the information is incorrect or contains numerous errors. Similarly, information devoid of errors is considered trustworthy. Some typing mistakes are acceptable, but sloppy writing with too many grammatical mistakes can look unprofessional. If data or statistics are involved in the information, you can check where those pieces of information came from. You can identify fake news if personal perspectives are expressed using numbers, as individuals can easily manipulate them. However, facts and opinions are not synonymous.
Objectivity: You can avoid news by identifying the personal bias or prejudice involved in the material. It can be an attempt to persuade you to buy a business product.
Reliability: To identify fake news, check when the information was released. Is the newly uploaded content updated regularly, or is it old content disguised as new?
Information from other websites: One of the easiest ways of being unable to avoid fake news may seem self-evident initially. If you want news, you must go to the most trustworthy news sites on the Internet. If you rely on Facebook or Twitter for this matter, you have to double-click on every meme or news story that you come across on your newsfeed. You can also use apps that connect you to news websites.
As we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic, you must know how to avoid fake news. In 2020, there was fake news on social media that 5G technology is linked with the coronavirus. In addition, there was a misconception that 5G suppressed the immune system, whereas the virus communicated through radio waves. These claims were not valid, and this misinformation was denied immediately by the official authorities.
2) US Presidential Election 2016
Fake news and misinformation became a top trend during the US Presidential Elections in 2016. There was an analysis that teenagers in Macedonia generated much fake news. They created hyper-partisan stories, which were clicked and shared by multiple people across different forums.
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Various approaches are made to promote a civil dialogue in the face of fake news and misinformation. In the current environment, you will see multiple online news platforms. News organizations are testing products and services to help identify fake news and hate speech to violence. Many new methods and techniques have taken over, which bodes well for the future of journalism and media consumption.
At the same time, we must rely on more than just technology. We all should understand how to avoid fake news and misinformation in our society. Promoting investigative journalism, increasing public Internet literacy, and limiting financial incentives to fake news all contribute to avoiding fake news. Combining all of these factors will encourage quality conversation and weaken the climate of disinformation.