Fake news invasion!

Illustration of a man reading the newspaper Fake News Daily

Fake news proliferates faster than it is generated, and because of this it is trusted sufficiently to be forwarded even further, making it difficult to contain or neutralise in real time. Fake news can influence people who make decisions and this could be detrimental to individuals and to society as a whole.

Fake news is not anything new. But it has become a much-talked-about topic in our days. Fake news highly benefits from the fast pace with which information travels today, via social media, irrespective of the economic or educational background of the recipient. This means that those who are unable to distinguish fact from fiction, or have the ability to counteract it, are usually the first receivers and sharers! Fake news proliferates faster than it is generated, and because of this it is trusted sufficiently to be forwarded even further, making it difficult to contain or neutralise in real time.

Fake news can influence people who make decisions and this could be detrimental to individuals and to society as a whole. Bad decisions result in consequences that, in turn, lead to mistrust. And mistrust leads to a misinformed, disintegrated society with no stable guidelines to understand the world and react to situations that affect it.

Screenshot of news channel report on mob lynching over child kidnapping fake news

The rise of fake news

Formerly, we obtained news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. There were checks and balances in place, and editors acted as gatekeepers of information. Now, the internet introduces us to a whole new way of publishing, sharing and consuming information and news with very little regulation or editorial standards.

Most people now source their news from social media sites and networks and often it becomes difficult to tell whether these news stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. More than anything else, the contributing factor is its availability: when one can access information by the press of a button on a smart phone, why take the trouble of looking further?!

What exactly is fake news?

Clickbait link selling free tickets

Fake news is a term that has come to mean different things to different people. At its core, it refers to those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes. These stories may be propaganda that is intentionally designed to mislead the reader. These lies, told for a political or commercial purpose, deploy digital technology — social media and new networks — and go viral, to reach around the world and influence millions of people very quickly. Fake news may also be designed as “clickbait” written for economic incentives (the writer profits on the number of people who click on the story).

Fake news stories can deceive people by mimicking trusted websites or using names and web addresses similar to those of reputed news organisations. Some stories may have a nugget of truth thus making them almost believable, but on deeper scrutiny we can see that they lack contextual details. They may include basic verifiable facts or sources, but ‘expand’ the truth converting it for an agenda that deliberately misleads or ‘disinforms’.

Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is mistakenly or inadvertently created or spread; the intent is not to deceive. Disinformation is false information that is deliberately created and spread “in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth”.

Ways to combat fake news

Cartoon showing two fishes ignoring clickbait

Media literacy
The ability to evaluate and separate fake news from real news is a part of media literacy and, on a broader level, information literacy. There are strategies that you can use to become a savvy judge of news especially online or when using social media. Here are the three questions that one should always ask when evaluating a news story:

1. Who is the creator? The first question in figuring out if something is fake is by looking at the individual who created it, or understanding the organization behind it. Can the credentials be checked? Is there a by-line or introduction, and are you aware of the person’s expertise? Is the author listed on the site, or is there an “about me” section? Does the organization have an “about us” link? Search the Internet for more information about the author. Search LinkedIn, a social media site for professionals. Is this a first-hand account, or is this being seen through the eyes of an editor?

2. What is the message? The second question in determining whether something is fake news is by looking at the message itself and understanding what is being communicated. What is the content of the message? Can I find this same news in multiple places? Do multiple places use different experts and sources in their reports? Is the website this news appears on updated regularly? What is the date of the story?

3. Why was this created? The third question in determining if something is fake news is by looking at why the message was created. Can you tell what motivated the creation of this message? Was this message created for profit? Is this news actually an advertisement? Are the sources being paid?

Let’s be responsible!

It is always a good idea to verify information before you share it with others — in person or on social media. Apart from the three questions listed above, an additional method that works is the CRAAP Test:

Currency (check the date and timing),
Relevance (why are you receiving it?),
Authority (what is the source of the information?),
Accuracy (check and re-check reliability and truthfulness) and finally,
Purpose (the most important is ‘why’ the information exists!)

Nigel Barrett

Fr Nigel Barrett is the Co-ordinator of the Catholic Communication Centre, Mumbai.

Latest posts by Nigel Barrett (see all)

Nigel Barrett

Fr Nigel Barrett is the Co-ordinator of the Catholic Communication Centre, Mumbai.