Fake news is a significant problem across the internet.
Besides polarising political debates and damaging public trust in the media, it is a threat to democracy.
The media’s role is to uphold democracy and serve the public interest, and that cannot happen if fake news is prevalent.
One of the most damaging aspects of fake news is the reader’s confirmation bias.
Consider the Trump vs Clinton media battle, in which there was a large-scale creation of fake and inaccurate news against each candidate.
The two halves of America were guilty of picking and choosing what they called fake and what they believed.
The same has occurred closer to home for me, plaguing Brexit and Scottish Independence news.
That sentence has five different verified sources before you feather and tar me.
Likewise, while perhaps not “fake news” there is a growing concern over how much China’s influence is weighing over western media.
The Telegraph, for example, receives £750,000 from China to “tell their story well”.
The tools to stop fake news
It is tough to be able to determine whether a news site is accurate or not.
Generally speaking, news corporations are allowed to assert their own biases providing they remain accurate.
This all too often falls apart, and not all news corporations strive to uphold the same standards.
The first thing people need to do is to realise that they are the weak link.
Me, you, your liberal siblings, your conservative grandparents, we are the vulnerabilities.
We need to realise that we are responsible for the content we consume and believe in.
Fake news is not the “cute sibling” of pseudoscience. It is evident that the consequences can be lethal too.
Why is it so hard for certain people to acknowledge that their sources of information are unreliable?
One of my favourite tools for checking is a Chrome extension. NewsGuard sits in your browser, and whenever it sees a link to a news organisation, it adds a little badge next to the link which is either green, yellow, or red.
The green badge shows that the site is generally trustworthy, while a red badge means you should take care of the content within as it might not be credible, ethical, or fair.
Yellow badges indicate satire sites, which might not be immediately apparent.
This site examines news websites and ranks them on the political compass for their political views and bias.
If we continue to refer to Sputnik News, we can see that it has a right wing bias and is flagged as a questionable source.
If you want to verify the methodology of their checks yourself, they have it published on their site too.
Perhaps one of the best exercises to do is write down a list of all your favourite news outlets and search them up individually.
This may surprise you, as you might find that you have been consuming significantly more biased information than expected.
Media Bias/Fact Check also provides lists of all the different biases.
Google Reverse Search
Images are easy to miscaption, as is proved in Snopes‘ ongoing battle against fake news.
One of the easiest ways to prevent being fooled is to do a reverse image search.
If you use WhatsApp a lot, this has recently become even easier with the feature built-in.
On Chrome, if you see an image that you want to question, it is a case of right-clicking on it, and you can search Google for the image.
This won’t always work, but it is a great way to find if an image has been online for longer than is reported. For example, if you saw the following picture with a caption saying it was from the bloody battle in Syria in April 2019, where 10,000 children died, how could you prove or disprove it?
For starters, you could reverse image search it, let’s see what we find.
You might find something like this:
Notice how the pages that this photo appears on say that it was from Libya in 2012?
That is an easy way to question the validity of the rest of the article then, particularly if it is worded in a way to stir up anger or hate.
While there is a myriad of tools out there to play with, the casual reader will not want to go through the steps for each interesting link they see on social media.
It is, therefore, everyone’s responsibility to call this content out when it arises, even if it goes against your favourite politician/presidential candidate.
Stay safe online, and question everything.