Fighting Fake News Like a Pro: Tips and Tricks to Identify It and Stop the Spread
Updated: Apr 13, 2022
Fake news includes stories, social media publications, articles, videos, podcasts, and any other media that are false, misleading or lacking evidence to support what it communicates. Fake news can be published deliberately to make people believe something that is untrue. This can be done because of misleading political or social intentions, or by people who only want to watch the world burn. Some other times, fake news can have some truth in it but is not completely accurate because the authors are not experts, the sources of information consulted were not accurate, or the information was misinterpreted due to a lack of background in the specific area. These mistakes are often made by journalists, influencers, bloggers or people in general. Although they are not necessarily published with the intention of causing harm, they may still be misleading and provoke fear and rumors derived from misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we should be careful when reading and sharing information. This is more important than ever when sharing sensitive content that could potentially harm someone’s health, such as miracle products or home remedies. Because the internet is flooded with fake news and personal opinions that are not supported by facts, we should learn to identify who and what to believe in order to protect ourselves and others from the dangers of misinformation and become responsible online citizens.
Five steps to detect fake news
Identifying fake news can be tricky, especially when we have a lot of information available; however, it can be easy to disregard a piece of information by following these 5 steps:
1. Identify the source
Peer-reviewed journals are very good sources of scientific information; however, they may not be accessible or easy to understand for everybody. Books, governmental and non-governmental organization web pages (WHO, CDC, UN, and others), and academic online magazines such as C&EN and Science Daily are great sources for the general public. If the information you see comes from a personal blog, someone’s Facebook, a WhatsApp chain, or a sketchy blogger or journalist, you should always double-check if the information can also be found at reliable websites as described above.
2. Can you trace the author?
Usually, good sources make it easy to track their authors and see other publications they have written. Are they an expert? Do they belong to or work in a known university, organization, or enterprise? Pieces of information with no available authors might not be trustworthy. Also, look out at the bottom of the page for statements of conflict of interest. Often, people who want to sell a product will talk wonders, but not share so much about the bad stuff. Also, keep in mind that an expert in one area is not per definition an expert in another. For instance, a medical doctor is not necessarily also a public health expert.
3. Check the tone, words, and subliminal messages
Is it exaggerated? Does it have a sarcastic, politically inclined, or unserious tone? Is the headline misleading or unrelated to the information presented (also called ‘clickbait’)? Clues for fake news include websites that sell miracles or cure-all products. If you are unsure, search the product on the FDA webpage. If you cannot find it there, it may not be safe. The FDA also has a list of fraudulent products related to COVID-19 that you can access here.
4. Look for supporting evidence
Can you find the information somewhere else? Has it been reported? By whom? Ask yourself these questions and do a quick search to find out if what you are seeing is true. Look for better sources (like magazines or official websites) before you share and evaluate the information using the tips listed above.
5. Care before you share
Sharing news on social media is easy, but if you care about others, think twice about sharing things you aren’t sure about. Dangerous home remedies, miracle products, conspiracy theories about vaccines, self-medication, and any other medical recommendation that is not offered by a healthcare professional can be dangerous. Take care of yourself and others by asking for guidance from an expert and stay safe.
Like a Pro
Now that you know how, keep fighting COVID-19 like a pro. Stop the spread of germs and misinformation by wearing a mask, keeping your distance, washing your hands, and staying away from fake news!
University of Toronto: How do I spot misinformation
Contributed by: Text: Claudia Minutti