Fake news is exploding in India, a country which has over 50 million accounts on Whatsapp and nearly 200 million users on Facebook.
Fake news consists of news stories designed to mislead readers into believing falsehoods. They are created to spread propaganda to defame an individual or organisation. Unlike news satire which is meant to entertain, fake news is meant to misinform.
There is also a growing trend of political leaders spreading fake news stories (more here). The advent of fake news becomes all the more dangerous when politicians – our leaders – indulge in them, accidentally or intentionally. They have massive online following and even one tweet on their part can spread a great amount of misinformation and lies.
In such times, it is important that we filter the propaganda and eliminate the half-truths and falsehoods so that we arrive at the facts. Here are a few ways by which you can arm yourself against fake news.
Combating fake news: The basics
There are three things you must keep in mind when reading a news article on the internet (or, really, when you’re reading anything):
- Google is your friend: To verify a story’s facts or search for the story on other outlets, the best way forward would be to use a search engine, of which Google is the most widely used.
- Your personal biases are your enemies: There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but opinions need not always be loyal to facts. There are many people who believe that the earth is flat or that global warming is a hoax; these individuals are entitled to have these opinions but just because you believe in something it doesn’t make it true. If you want to verify a story you need to check if your personal opinions are corrupting your judgement.
- Attack the story: Doubt is your most powerful ally. You can scrutinise the story for lapses and loopholes and take an adversarial stand against its claims until you’re satisfied by its conviction and research.
How to spot fake news?
It is worth noting that there are some features that are common among most fake news stories. These are as follows:
- The source is untrustworthy/unknown.
- Other stories from same source are unbelievable or known to be intentionally fake.
- Reputable/mainstream sources don’t have the same story as carried by the source in question.
- The story posits an outrageous claim with wild graphics.
- The story makes you angry.
Here are a few ways by which you can spot fake news:
- Check the source: Go through the site/page and scour through its other stories, analysing them for repeated bias or questionable content.
- Check the date: Sometimes, a story from years ago could be reposted to give it the impression of a recent development for various reasons.
- Verify with other outlets: A very easy way of cross-verification. Check if the story you’re reading has been covered by other media outlets.
- Check your biases: Are you sure you’re confident of the story’s validity or are your personal biases clouding your judgement?
- Read beyond the headline: Many of us make the mistake of reading news stories a the surface and not reading beyond the headline. This is very counter-productive as the headline can be misleading and/or incomplete. To get the full picture and more information, it is imperative that we read the article, or at least the first few paragraphs of the article.
- Check the author: If the article mentions the author, you should Google them to check their credentials.
- Consult the experts: There are many fact-checking websites on the internet. These could already have exposed a questionable article or, if you want, you could ask them to do an analysis on the article of your choice.
- Do your own research: There is nothing to lose from gaining more knowledge. If you doubt a certain claim made in a news story, you can always research on the same yourself to get clarification. In the age of the internet, ignorance is a choice. Nearly all kinds of data can be found online from various sources, and a great percentage of this is available to the public for free. Make use of this opportunity to learn more on the topic in question and you can sort out your doubts on your own.
Fake news is everywhere: created by propagandists and shared by susceptible people. It has diluted our national conversation. In the digital age, every piece of information we read/watch needs to be cross-checked.
It can be either satirical or manipulative in nature. There are many outlets that write satirical news pieces with the sole purpose to entertain readers. Then, there are those whose sole purpose is to manipulate the readers.
Fake news is dangerous to democracy. If the information is corrupted, the national debate is diluted and democracy is weakened. The viral nature of fake news has established a culture of lies and misinformation which continues to grow unchecked.
We request community members to be alert and treat the stories they read online with caution. We have a responsibility to verify everything that we share. Let us aim to end the propagation of misleading information.