Fake News

Fake news stories and hoaxes have been around for as long as the media have, but only recently has the phrase 'Fake News' truly entered the public conciousness.

It's phenomenal rise in use is arguably down to Donald Trump, who regularly dismisses anything he doesn't like as being 'fake news'. But what exactly does the term mean, and how can we seperate fact from fiction online?

Jump straight to topic:

What is fake news?

Alternative Facts

Whilst the term "Fake News" has become widely known, the definition of it is still somewhat fluid - how it's used often depends upon the person using it.

Any stories that have zero basis in fact are obviously fake, but "Fake News" is often used to label those stories that bend the truth just a little as well. And a story doesn't have to be inaccurate to be misleading - it could simply be biased, for example by selectively reporting only certain truths and ignoring other inconvenient facts.

Some politicians (here's looking at you Donald Trump...) will often intentionally mis-use the "Fake News" label to simply describe any news article that they dislike. The term is now so widespread and overused that some people claim it's actually harming legitimate news outlets by eroding trust (which might actually be the objective of certain politicians!).

Everyone has different opinions as to what should be labelled as "Fake News". But regardless of how we define and use the term, we should all ensure that we know how to identify what is true & what isn't, and what is a fact & what is simply opinion.

Coronavirus - what's real and what is not?

With the current Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic, there's an overwhelming amount of news and advice being published online, on tv, and in print. Whilst much of this is high quality and based on scientific fact, there's also a lot that isn't:

  • There's a lot of speculation being presented as fact;
  • On social media, there's a lot of well intentioned advice going viral that may sound logical but which isn't proven or, worse, which is scientifically wrong;
  • And on top of this, there's the usual intentionally fake advice & scams too.

So how can we tell what is true?

In fact the same guidance that applies to spotting political fake news applies here too. Check the source, see if the story or advice is backed up elsewhere, and be honest with yourself about your biases and whether you're simply hoping that something is true.

Some trustworthy sources of advice include:

Spotting fake news

Spotting fake news can sometimes be easy when outlandish claims are being made, but we're all able to be fooled anytime. Our pre-existing biases might make us readily believe some false stories, even when further research would show it to be fake.

Critical thinking is a skill that needs to be learnt; in this era of social media and highly politicised media we need to constantly be questioning what we're reading or watching. Just because our friend shared a story on Facebook doesn't mean it's true!

Try remembering the following whilst reading any story:

1) What's the source?

Which organisation or website created this story? Look into the source, what their aims might be (how independent are they?), and what other stories they've published.

2) Go beyond the headline

Headlines are designed to grab an audience; sometimes the more provocative the better. Read the whole article to get their complete story.

3) Is it satire?

There are many websites that publish intentionally satirical stories. Research the site to see if this article is meant to be a spoof & not taken seriously.

4) Check the publication date

Old news stories sometimes get circulated again, which may then read very differently in light of any more recent events.

5) Can the story be backed up?

Don't just automatically trust the sources given in the article; read around on the internet and see if other reputable sources back up the quoted facts too.

6) Be honest with yourself

We're all more likely to believe stories that align to our existing opinions and beliefs. Be honest with yourself - is your opinion of this story being affected by any bias?

The following websites can be useful places to double check any stories and facts (and sometimes even just for a laugh to see some of the crazy hoaxes that are out there!):

The organisation FactCheck.org has also developed 8 tips for seperating fact from fiction online, with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) turning their guidance into a great infographic.

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