Fake News: facts, fiction, lies, or the truth? Where do we start?
We are currently living in a post-truth, highly technological digital society, where we are overwhelmed with information on various media channels including social media. The question is what do we do with all the information? Do we just accept everything or are we equipped to identify fake news through critical literacy skills? This article will define fake news, distinguish between misinformation and disinformation, and identify different types of fake news. It will further supply criteria on how to identify fake news, and finally, make suggestions on how tertiary institutions can equip students with critical thinking skills to distinguish between facts and fiction.
Fake news, disinformation, and misinformation
The literature distinguishes between the following three terms as types of false information: fake news or false information, misinformation, and disinformation. Each of these will be discussed.
Fake News or false information
This type of information is used to mislead individuals or communities with wrong information to change political viewpoints, gain money, or cause panic. A good example of fake news is during the US elections, where a false story was published on Hilary Clinton and her involvement with child trafficking.
Misinformation is when false information is circulated unknowingly and is not intended to cause harm. Information is shared without taking the intentions of the author and the purpose of the information into consideration.
Disinformation is where false information is circulated deliberately to cause panic or harm.
These above-mentioned terms and phenomena are not new. However, the availability of social media and sophisticated information (text, images, videos, and links online) has resulted in information being shared at a faster rate. The Internet and social media play an important role in the distribution of fake news and it is increasingly becoming more problematic and difficult to detect.
How to identify fake news and evaluate information?
We need to be aware of fake news and be careful not to just forward or send information without checking its accuracy of it. This can be done by consulting other resources to confirm the information's accuracy and evaluate the author's authenticity.
How do we equip ourselves to be critical readers, who can distinguish facts from lies?
Information communication technologies are central to our lives today. Students need to be equipped with critical and analytic skills to increase their knowledge of the world. We need to think before we share information, identify misinformation and recognise fake news websites.
The following methods can be used to identify fake news:
Check the credibility and the reputation of the source and publication.
Check when the domain of the site was registered by entering the address in the Domain Age Checker. The wider we read from alternative sources the more likely we can change.
Check the author's credibility. Authors need to be experts on the topic that they write on.
Read further and determine whether other sources are reporting the same news.
Be cautious of sensational headlines. Look out for headlines that sound too good to be true because fake news authors use such headlines as clickbait, to attract people.
Check the facts. Most of the sites or publications containing legitimate news will have several facts compared to illegitimate sites. These facts include data, statistics, quotes from experts, etc. Reports with false information usually contain incorrect dates, spelling errors, and a lack of proper punctuation.
Check the comments. Read the comments and ensure that they are not auto-generated to mislead and confuse the reader.
Maintain a critical mindset. Fake news often implies hidden agendas to promote a particular cause. We must think critically about the reason behind the information.
The Authenticity of images. Images that have been edited and manipulated include warping, where straight lines are wavy or strange shadows occur.
Satirical websites are there to joke and create funny and untrue stories. Check where the image originates from or is it just a joke?
Use the following fact-checking sites to check the authenticity, and reliability of the news in question.
The role of universities concerning fake news
Students spend hours online and must be able to discern facts from fiction. Fake news can easily mislead students and their parents and harm the image of a university. Universities should produce graduates who are fact-checkers who can spot false information and can think analytically and critically. Students should be supported to develop lifelong abilities to detect and prevent false information from being spread to society.
Fake news exists. The only way to stop it is to increase awareness of fake news, understand how it operates, and learn how to avoid it. If we consider what we are sharing, double-check our facts, and read more widely, each of us can make a difference. Let's work together to create a society that is influenced by the truth rather than falsehoods and fantasy.
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