Rumors, conspiracy theories, false information, media manipulation,... In the past few months, and particularly since Donald Trump was elected, these words have been all over the media. But what does it all mean, and how can you protect yourself against it? Let’s take a look.
A false friend
The term ‘fake news’ can be confusing: strictly speaking, it’s not an article that’s wrong, but rather a false article, in the sense that it may look like a press article, but in reality, it isn’t.
One word, many meanings
Fake news comes in many forms these days, and the word is used for very different things. These are some forms of fake news:
Some sites publish parodies, openly and on purpose (The Onion is a good example). The idea is not to inform readers, but sometimes the articles are taken at face-value.
These sites usually look like news outlets, but with some differences: they don’t adhere to any journalistic code of ethics. In addition, as their revenues depend on readership, clickbait sites prefer controversial topics.
The aim is not to entertain or distract, but to influence public debate.
Fake news can also mean articles that are authentic, but wrong.
The flood of fake news may be fun for some people, but it can cause serious damage to someone’s image and privacy. Many media have joined Facebook in the fight against this phenomenon. Suspicious accounts are verified and often deactivated. The social media giant will not hesitate to take measures unilaterally. Indeed, 300.000 accounts have already been removed.
10 ways to combat fake news, shared by Facebook
1. Look at the titles. Fake news often features controversial titles, in bold letters, caps or exclamation points.
2. Check the URL of the site you visit. A fraudulent URL, designed to look like another one could indicate a site with false information.
3. Know your sources. If you are not familiar with the source publishing the article, do some research.
4. Beware of unusual layouts, as many sites with false information contain spelling mistakes or look incoherent. If this is the case, proceed with caution.
5. Pay attention to the pictures. False news often features images or videos that are altered or taken out of context. Use Google image to find out where an image comes from.
6. Check the dates. Fake news often contains the wrong dates or incoherent chronology.
7. Verify the evidence. Double-check the sources used by the author, and make sure they are correct.
8. Cross-check with other articles. If no other source confirms the same information, perhaps you are reading fake news.
9. Is it a hoax, or a joke? The difference between humour and fake news is not always easy to make. Check whether your source is known for parodies.
10. Some news is deliberately false. Be critical when you read news, and only share articles with verified sources.
If you have any doubts, use CrossCheck, an initiative by several media, which publishes a daily list of false information.
For more information, discover our study on fake news.
Historically, disinformation has always existed (hoaxes, propaganda, defamation, popular beliefs, parodies, etc.). Some people say that the rumour is the oldest medium in the world.