Person checking news on smartphone

5 tips to identify fake news and misinformation

Altering the information spread through mass media, whether intentionally (disinformation) or unintentionally (misinformation), is not a new practice. However, misinformation and disinformation have been fueled by digital technologies in the past decades, thanks to the rapid growth of digital media, online news outlets, and social networks. The spread of fake news online has become a major issue. Tech is catching up and new tools for identifying fake news are being developed. Besides, there are also steps you can take to identify fake news.

How to identify fake news and misinformation?

The spread of fake news online has become a major issue. The term “fake news” usually describes false information presented as news, with no verifiable facts and sources, but it’s difficult to pin down. A fake news story might have a grain of truth, but it might hide some crucial details and present only one viewpoint. It might be written using provocative language meant to divide and instigate people. For some people, “fake news” might be a label they use for any information they do not believe to be true. 

In an era where “fake news” is used to denigrate any story you disagree with, and where misinformation is both a political tool and a hook to sell, scam, and scare – the ability to distinguish fact from fiction can feel daunting. Fortunately, if you keep your head calm, you can usually tell whether it is real or fake news. And we’re here to help with these five tips:

Tip 1: Check the news source 

Be it Facebook, Twitter, or another source: You often come across news that comes from a page that you have never seen before. If this is the case, you should do a little research before believing the message and/or spreading it. You should ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Did the report appear on a trustworthy site? What other items are there here? 
  • What does the imprint or the “About Us” section of the page look like? 
  • Is the author known from other reputable news sites? 
  • What does the URL look like?

Tip 2: Develop a critical attitude

One of the reasons folks fall for dubious news is that it sounds credible, sometimes even more credible than the real thing. They often also have a catchy headline designed to shock the reader or appeal to them on an emotional level. 

That’s why it’s important to keep a cool head. Instead of responding emotionally, it’s best to try to view the message rationally. Take a closer look at the message and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Why was this message written? Do they want to influence me? 
  • Are they trying to sell me something? 
  • Am I being sent to another website? 
  • Do other news portals report about it?

Tip 3: Follow the sources

A properly researched report will contain many quotes, dates, and facts. Be it expert statements, survey evaluations, or statistics – serious news will not shy away from linking them. 

If the “expert” is a stranger or friend of the author, there are no sources, and everything is based on hearsay, you may want to question the text. Is there any evidence that what was mentioned in the article really happened or were facts invented or distorted?

Tip 4: Look for fake pictures 

Often dubious news is accompanied by equally dubious pictures. These should underline and prove the “facts” of the article. However, modern image processing programs make it very difficult to distinguish real from fake images; this is often no longer possible. There are still a few things to watch out for: 

  • See if the shadows that are cast look correct. 
  • Examine the picture more closely if people or things have strange frayed edges. 
  • Sometimes a Google Reverse Image Search also helps. Once images have been edited, you can find the originals. 
  • Check the meta-info of the image. A tool like exifdata.com can help you identify the date and time when the photo was taken. 

Tip 5: Who else reports on it?

When it comes to significant issues such as elections or global emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic, reports abound. Maintaining an overview and distinguishing serious from untrustworthy news can be difficult. If you find a message that is spreading completely new information that you have never heard of before, it is best to check whether other sites report it. Compare the information with what organizations such as Reuters or other trustworthy sources publish, and factcheck the information.

Tools for checking online news sources

If you need an ally in your daily struggle with fake news and misinformation, there are resources and tools that can help. Professional journalists and media scholars worldwide are joining forces to expose disinformation campaigns, misinformation, and fake newsThe Global Disinformation Index and First Draft are just two examples of such initiatives. But there are also user-friendly tools available to the general public. 

NewsGuard: rating the credibility and transparency of news sources

NewsGuard is a browser extension that provides ratings for online news sources. Its growing database approximately 6,000 websites that account for 95% of online engagement with news. The ratings have been developed by professional journalists and take into account nine criteria centered around the credibility and transparency of the news source. The database is maintained and expanded by professional editors with journalistic expertise. It’s a simple and straightforward tool to check the trustworthiness of news sources. Once you install the browser extension, the rating icons and score will appear in search engines, next to the website link, and in social media feeds. 

FakerFact: AI-enabled text analysis

FakerFact is an AI text-analysis tool that can tell you what kind of text you are dealing with by analyzing its content. It classifies texts into six categories: journalism, wiki, opinion, sensational, agenda drive, and satire. Its purpose is not to tell you whether the information in the text is true or false, but to give you a better understanding of the intention behind the text. Walt, the AI behind FakerFact, has been trained with millions of texts across the web and can give you his opinion on any URL or text you want to check. 

Lastly, as browsing online is inherently risky, you might want to consider protecting your device from cyberthreatsAvira Free Security can alert you when you visit a dangerous website, and it can protect you from all forms of malware, from phishing links to ransomware and trojans.

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Leor is a copywriter and content marketer for Avira.