How to identify and avoid fake news


23rd Nov 2022 Life

How to identify and avoid fake news

Fake news is all around us and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. Here are some tips for avoiding misinformation

Fake news is not new. In the 18th century, for example, fake news was spread about King George II being ill in order to damage his public image.

However, in recent years we have entered a new era of fake news. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries announced “post-truth” as its international word of the year. Frequency of the word’s usage rose by 2,000 per cent that year. In 2017, Collins Dictionary’s word of the year was “fake news”.

"Over 80 per cent of people in the UK regularly come across fake news online"

Today, fake news remains a problem. A study found that over 80 per cent of people in the UK regularly come across fake news online, while 52 per cent admit they have been deceived at least once. Ofcom research suggests that 30 per cent of internet users are unsure about or don’t even consider the truthfulness of online information.

Luckily there are some things you can do to avoid being caught out by misinformation.

Google it

The first step to responding to any potential fake news is easy: Google it. This is particularly the case if the news in question reached you via social media, whether that be a friend of a friend’s Facebook post or a WhatsApp message from your aunt. 

Do your research

If you see a claim on social media, look it up for yourself

When Googling a claim, look for supporting evidence from credible news websites. Both when checking a particular claim and when accessing news generally, it’s a good idea to read a diverse range of news sources. Even official news platforms can have certain biases that may affect reporting.

Read the fine print

It’s easy to see a headline with an outrageous claim and get fired up, but it might be clickbait. In theory, clickbait is simply an enticing headline that spurs readers to click the link, but often it is associated with misleading headlines which sensationalise topics.

"Often, the facts are buried deeper within the article"

If you see a wild claim in a headline, make sure you read the article before you start sharing it. You might find that the story is not what it appears. Often, the facts are buried deeper within the article, so without reading the whole thing you may miss the whole picture

Check that the news is up-to-date

Are you seeing a post that has been circulating for a few months? The information may no longer be accurate, even if it was at the time it was written.

Check when it was originally published, and if it’s from a while ago, look for more recent news on the topic. As a point of reference, The Guardian flags articles that are more than 3 months old. 

Check who wrote it

If the article comes from a reputable news source, it’s likely that it was written by a professional journalist who practiced due diligence when sourcing their information. Qualified journalists have been trained in factual unbiased reporting—although many news websites have opinion sections, so take note if you’re reading an opinion piece! You may want to check the facts for yourself and form your own opinion.

Man reading newspaper

Make sure to check who wrote the news piece

If the article is not from an official news website, where is it from? Check if it has been written by a credible expert on the topic, or if it has been written for a trusted organisation.

Take action

If, after all your sleuthing, you come to the conclusion that you have found some fake news, what should you do about it? First of all, don't share it! Many social media platforms have tools for flagging misinformation, which is a useful tool for dealing with fake news.

"Studies suggest that fake news spreads faster than real news on Twitter"

If it is a post or message from someone you know, you can reach out to them and let them know it’s not entirely accurate. It’s better to do this by politely messaging them privately rather than leaving a public comment if it’s a post on social media. Social media platforms like Facebook are designed so that if you engage with a post more people will see it, meaning that the information will spread further. 

With studies suggesting that fake news spreads faster than real news on Twitter, it’s important to take a moment to process any information you come across online!

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.