How to spot
fake news

We live in a time of click-bait, deepfakes, yellow journalism, sensationalism and fake news. When it comes to consuming media, it is no wonder people are struggling to separate fact from fiction.

What is fake news?

According to Collins Dictionary, fake news is false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. The New York Times defines it as made-up stories with the intention to deceive, often geared toward getting clicks.

More recently, people have begun using the term “fake news” to dismiss information they do not agree with.

How fake news hurts

Fake news is not a new reality, but two key things are impacting the current landscape of untruths.

First is an increase in the number of people, politicians and fake news sites denying facts, misrepresenting information, and undermining the credibility of journalists and media outlets.

Second, the shareability of content on social media makes it easier for misinformation to spread from screen to screen, and reader to reader, at a rapid pace.

Fake news misleads and misinforms. It is seen as a threat to democracy and free debate. According to a recent Pew Research Centre study in the U.S., many Americans say made-up news and information greatly impacts people’s confidence in government institutions. About half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other.

Fake news and the 2019 Canadian federal election

The 2016 presidential election in the US brought the current realities of fake news into focus. From hoaxes, to fake accounts, and the spread of misinformation (including incorrect voting dates), the New York Times reported a variety of ways misinformation showed up on voting day.

Buzzfeed’s analysis of fake news during the last US presidential campaign, suggests that the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post.

Back on home soil, Ford’s Ontario News Now raises the fake news alarm bells, and deepfakes, artificial intelligence-manipulated video clips, of political leaders are popping up.

There is no reason to believe we won’t be bombarded with misinformation and fake news ahead of the October 21 federal election.

What you can do about fake news

While the debate continues as to how journalists and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will respond to online misinformation, media consumers play an important role in the fake news drama. Some high schools are teaching media literacy courses focused on helping students spot fake news, and media outlets and libraries are sharing resources to help readers develop critical media skills.

5 step guide:How to spot fake news

1

Confirm the source

If you’re unfamiliar with the media outlet or author, read their about and contact pages to learn more about who they are and what they do. Most trustworthy media outlets will make it clear what they are about (including disclaimers on satirical news sites). Still not sure? Some fake news sites will go so far as to copy legitimate outlets. If the URL, logo or design looks strange, if may be worth a closer look.
2

Check the facts

When something catches your attention, see what other news outlets are saying about the story and who their sources are. Take note of any similarities or differences in facts. Still not sure if the story is true? Try fact-checking sites like Factscan.ca and Snopes.com. These sites are dedicated to finding the truth.
3

Quality counts

If the content you are reading is messy, riddled with typos or grammar errors, or full of exclamation marks and all caps, it could be fake news. Most legitimate sources follow strict style guides and only publish clean, edited content. The same goes for images and videos - pay attention for signs of doctored footage.
4

Read before your share

Deceptive sites often use sensational headlines to hook readers and generate clicks. Before sharing a story, do your due diligence and read it in full. Most legitimate news outlets will include attribution and quotes from trustworthy sources as a way to add varying viewpoints to the story and enhance credibility. Chances are if you are reading a story with no sources, you are either reading an opinion piece or some form of fake news. Take heed.
5

Speak up

Media creators and consumers are responsible for fighting fake news. If you see fake news, or questionable content, reach out to the person who shared it and start a conversation about why the content doesn’t look credible. Sharing what you know can help others avoid falling into the fake news trap.

If you care about Canada, support the Election Integrity Reporting Project

Your donation will help expose disinformation in the 2019 federal election campaign.