We are living unfortunate times. A pandemic is ravaging all countries and the population has had to take extreme measures such as confinement and physical distancing.
Luckily, nowadays, we have technologies like the Internet, messaging apps, videoconference apps, social networks and others that allow us to practice physical distancing but avoiding social distancing. Unluckily, like any other tools, they can be used for good and for bad.
One of this bad uses we can see, especially right now, is the publication and expansion of Fake News and False Information, with all the danger, uncertainty and public opinion manipulation they bring to the table.
The term Fake News is closely associated with politics while the term False Information is referred to a diverse range of disinformation covering topics such as health, environmental and economics across all platforms and genres.
False information is not new, however, it has become a hot topic in the last few years and, on this health crisis, it has become more evident than never. The increase in the use of social media and messaging apps these days due to lockdowns and isolation can cause an overload of information and make more difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. In addition, not just the increase of use of these platforms but the lack of knowledge about how the Internet works have caused the spread of all kinds of false information.
There are different types of false information based on the intention the pursue:
- Clickbait: Designed and written to attract more visitors to a website to, usually, monetize this increase of traffic and based on sensationalist headlines sacrificing truth and/or accuracy.
- Propaganda: Stories designed to mislead or provided biased points of view.
- Satire/Parody: Created for pure entertainment or parody. Despite the intention is clear on the origin, when they get divulgated and lose context they can mislead audiences.
- Sloppy Journalism: Journalism is a serious job and proper investigations and verifications need to be done before publishing a story. When journalists take shortcuts or they do not verify their sources misleading or wrong stories can be published.
- Biased News: Social media personalisation algorithms can publish more often news in user’s feeds that are more aligned with their ideology and thoughts (how this is done, it is a completely different topic). This can cause users believing and spreading misleading news.
It is more important now that ever to exercise and enforce our critical thinking and do not blindly trust everything we see and is shared with us through messaging groups and social networks. Especially, because every time we share or resend false information we are legitimating it to the eyes of the people that know us (well, not everyone, all of us have this friend that…you know).
There are a few things and questions we can consider before sharing something or “legitimate” somethings:
- Be suspicious of any information that is very scandalous or emotional. Put it in quarantine before taking it for granted. Find out where it came from and, above all, do not send it until you are sure it is true.
- Often, fake news carries fake signatures from recognized journalists, and even covers and media headlines are tricked into making it appear true. Again, before spreading it, look for that news on the website of the media. Check that they have actually published it.
- Be suspicious of any message that includes phrases such as “it’s true”, “I’ve verified it” “it’s an aunt/niece of mine”, etc. They are usually phrases from false WhatsApp chains.
- Many audio and video messages from alleged experts are used to mislead people. Search their names on the internet before giving them up for truth if the information does not come from a reliable means of communication.
- Many photos are manipulated. Before taking them for granted, make sure they are not. These are tools that allow you to check it such as Google Reverse Image Search, it will help to find the original source of the news and its first publication date.
- Visit specialized in denying hoaxes platforms whenever it is possible.
- And, use common sense, check before forwarding and if something does not smell good probably is not good.
I hope everyone is doing well, stay safe and, for everyones benefit, stay sharp and cautious when you publish or re-publish information out there. Knowledge is power but, the correct one.