“Fake news” is commonly known as stories especially designed to mislead or deliberately misinform an individual or a group to trigger the desired response. Fake news has recently widespread especially as a tool on the political ground. The fake news spectrum is actually pretty large, from obviously unbelievable stories –easily identifiable as fake news– to more subtle kind of misinformation, yet deliberately published to distort the truth. Here are a few tips for spotting fake news.
- Find out the sources: for instance, check how the story is presented and written. Is the text well written, does it contain orthographic mistakes? Above all, if needed, consult the “About us” section of the website where the text comes from. It will allow you to know more about the persons in charge of the contents: where do they come from? What are their values? What is the purpose of the website? Why was it created? Does it seem to be a serious and credible website?
- Pay attention to the author: is he/she a real, reliable and trustworthy author? Look at other pieces or contents he/she may have written in the past. This is truly important, as every author refers to particular values and thoughts. So, it is usually interesting to know more about the author’s background. Furthermore, it is really helpful to train and practice your own judgment and critical thinking. And of course, if this author published on an unreliable website, think twice before believing what he/she wrote…
- What about links and references? If the text you are reading contains some links or references, click on them! Indeed, references allow readers to track back the source of information. It is crucial for any author to base one’s text on solid facts. Thus, gathering provable and relevant references definitely add credibility to any content. In order to do so, it is important to get references from trustworthy sources.
- Fake news versus fact-checking: many international media hire staff dedicated to fact-checking. Therefore, they rarely publish a story without having a second source to back it up. So, at some point, it may be interesting for the reader to check if the content he/she read has been shared by mainstream media, such as The New York Times or Al Jazeera, for instance. Although, beware and stay vigilant, since some news agencies or media have a bad reputation or are not credible. This is the reason why it is usually good to use information from other websites to double-check if some contents are reliable and accurate or not.
- Sharing or not sharing? In general, it is better to avoid sharing stories that you are not very sure about, since it may contribute to widespread fake news online. A field research conducted in France in 2017 illustrated this phenomenon: the research made an inventory of 1737 posts relaying fake news on Facebook, and showed that each of these posts had been shared 1000 times on average (which corresponds to more than 1.6 million of shared posts on the social media).
Speaking of this, it may be important to focus on Education to media and current news, since some research also showed that young people who have been told about fake news (What is fake news? What does it mean? What are the reliable media and sources? etc., actually tend to be better at detecting it. Therefore, children should be taught how to understand the information they may find online. By Justine Canonne
- Beth Hewitt, “How to spot fake news – an expert’s guide for young people”, The Conversation, December 2017, available online
- Adrien Sénécat, “Facebook, voyage au cœur de la machine à fausses informations”, Le Monde, December 2017, available online