Fake news is any information that is deliberately or accidentally misinformative or untrue, often published with the intention of misleading the public, damaging an entity, or gaining financially.
Although ‘fake news’ was not a term most people were familiar with even a few years ago, it has since become infamous and was in fact named the 2017 word of the year. It is not a new phenomenon, with evidence of fake news found as early as the 1700s, when George Washington wrote that he left public office due to the false writings in newspapers by “infamous scribblers”. However, the digital age has caused fake news to spread with greater ease through social media platforms, leading to disastrous effects for organisations and nations around the world, such as causing corporations to lose profit, deepening social divisions along racial or religious lines, and hampering the democratic process.
What are some examples of fake news?
- Propaganda created to influence public perceptions
- Falsely stating negative things about the character of a person or entity
- Manipulation of images or videos to create a false narrative
- News that is fabricated and has no factual grounding
- Advertisements trying to gain profit by lying about their costs
- Advertisements that appear to have been created by news outlets
Why is it dangerous to spread fake news?
- Baseless fear is stirred in the public
- Resources are wasted as the authorities check the validity of claims
- Reputations are hurt when false allegations are made
- Innocents lose money to scams
- Social divisions are deepened, potentially causing social disharmony
- Threat to democracy, such as through influencing and rigging an election
How can I spot fake news?
- Check the source: try find your news from credible sources that have a good reputation, not just through your friends or social media
- Confirm with other reliable sources: check other reliable news sites to see if the same story is running on multiple credible sources
- Look at the ‘About us’ or ‘Contact us’ pages: websites with the intent to mislead often don’t have these pages, or have very little helpful information on them
- Be sceptical of dramatic headlines: headlines that are particularly dramatic are probably exaggerating something, so be sure to double check these
- Look up the language: if an article has lots of spelling or grammatical errors, it likely has not been rigorously checked by the news source
- Go to the experts: websites such as Snopes, Factually, and FactCheck have teams who verify whether popular news stories are true or fake
- Don’t just trust the figures: check the reliability of the people providing or reporting the numbers as well
- Know how the numbers came around: surveys usually need at least 1000 respondents for the sample size to be reliable, and these respondents should be representative of the whole population – so check the methodology for the numbers as well