Spotting fake news is essential in an age where information spreads like wildfire across cyberspace, impacting opinion on critical issues like politics, health, the economy, and security. One viral fake story can have potentially serious consequences. For example, after a van attack in Toronto left eleven people dead and fifteen injured, fake news rapidly perforated the Internet:
- Right-wing American host, Alex Jones, ranted that the attacker was an Islamic man.
- CBC reporter Natasha Fatah, daughter of right-wing columnist Tarek Fatah, tweeted a description of the suspect as “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern.”
- Far-right political commentator Katie Hopkins falsely implied that Canada’s immigration policies were to blame.
- American news outlets reported that Canadian officials knew the attacker based on an unverified claim from a former New York police commissioner, resulting in bitter criticism. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders later debunked the claim.
Even after officials revealed the driver’s identity and background, major mainstream news outlets continued erroneous reporting about Alek Minassian. A common mistake was misspelling his name as “Alex” instead of “Alek.”
The mistakes forced one Alex Minassian to plead with mainstream news organizations like NBC, ABC, and CBC to stop hounding his friends and family in a Facebook post.
You’re not alone if you have ever fallen for fake news. In fact, polls by market research company Ipsos suggest that most Canadians have fallen for fake news at least once. To identify it, you must first understand the different grades of fake news.
- Pure fake stories: Pure fake stories are the easiest to spot. They may initially appear genuine, but scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll see the cracks. Trolls, pranksters, scammers, and ideologists usually create such stories.
- Semi-fake stories: Stories that misrepresent facts are more challenging to spot. Fake news that mixes the truth with falsehoods originates from unethical journalists, businesses, and state-sponsored propaganda arms.
- Clickbait: Articles that employ sensationalist or misleading headlines to earn a click are rampant on the Internet. In an age where website traffic quickly translates into revenue, all types of media use clickbait to grab attention.
How to spot fake news
Spotting fake news requires a multifaceted approach. Here are some tips that may help:
#1 Check the source
While all types of entities can deliberately or carelessly spread fake news, authentic news sources are typically more reliable. For example, you can trust a reputable platform like Canada News Media for the latest and most dependable Canadian stories.
Of course, even professionals make mistakes in the age of short news cycles. That’s why it’s a good idea to cross-reference what you’re reading with multiple sources. A simple Google search can help you find other sources for a breaking story.
It’s also worth your time to dig into the source’s source; multiple news organizations can occasionally report the same incorrect story when leveraging the same unreliable source.
For scientific reports, look for peer-reviewed work. Peer review is the appraisal of a work by people with similar expertise as the author. By no means is peer-reviewed work flawless, but it’s usually more trustworthy than a random study cited by media for some fast clicks.
#2 Use a critical eye
A critical eye can help you spot fake news. Always ask yourself questions before believing what you’re consuming on the Internet. However, deferring to a qualified, experienced, and trusted expert is also essential. For example, opinions from doctors on a fast-spreading disease are less likely to be fake news than the opinion of a YouTuber.
#3 Fact-check with the right tools
Reverse Image Search is an excellent verification tool for memes. For example, if you use Reverse Image Search to check a picture of a flood that a meme says was recently and nearby, you may learn that the flood was from a different time and country entirely.
Spotting fake news on the Internet is challenging but not impossible—leverage fact-checking tools, reliable sources, and qualified experts to get to the bottom of a questionable story.
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