By Sheldon Fisher
The spread of disinformation over the internet continues to grow, and it is important for consumers to be able to differentiate between viable sources and those who fabricate fake news.
James Titcomb and Carson James of The Telegraph said in their article, “Fake News: What Exactly is it and How Can You Spot it”, “the rise of social media has broken down many of the boundaries that prevented fake news from spreading in democracies.”
Fahmy Mohamed of the Toronto Star said, “it’s a dangerous accusation to any earnest journalist. It’s a demeaning threat I had been accustomed to hearing...mostly from dictators who hoped to dismiss critical journalism and brainwash their own people at any cost.”
Using social media as a part of their propaganda machine, governments and political parties have only made the problem worse, said Mohamed.
This has created a need for organizations like AltNews, Boom, and SM Hoaxslayer to monitor social media sites, identifying information that appears fake, verifying it, and finally relaying corrections, said Anesha George and Danish Raza of Hindustan Times.
Growing distrust in many news sources has created a rush by social media outlets to combat this flood of disinformation; enlisting fact checkers, developing better algorithms, and cutting off advertising to fake news sites, said Titcomb and James.
Mohamed said one of the first things a reader can do to protect themself against fake news is to remain skeptical of sensational headlines. To always check sources, even their URL to see if it’s legitimate or if anything has been altered from the original site’s address.
“Right-click on the image attached to the story and “search Google for image” Even if the photo is taken out of context you can still check to identify its source,” said Mohamed.
The reader should also do a search for the story and see if other sources are reporting the same information. If not, that can be an indication that something was misrepresented or falsified.
Mohamed also said it is important for the reader to “not believe that any single source is above bias.”
Some companies have taken even more proactive measures, like actually blocking fake news sites and hiding them from search results with addons like Google’s AdSense. But ultimately, it begins with the reader being proactive by questioning any information they come across.
Factchecker.in was founded by Govindraj Ethiraj, former editor-in-chief of Bloomberg TV India when he saw the need for a program dedicated to critically evaluating news.
McAfee, in its article, “Stay Ahead of Misinformation - 5 Ways to Combat Fake News,” gives a brief list of suggestions:
Consumers should do their best to stick to legitimate news sources in order to avoid potential phishing scams or sensationalized rumors.
Verify information on personal news feeds. Make sure that news received on social networks is legitimate and not just hearsay from family, friends, or acquaintances.
Verify any messages from “official” agencies that seem questionable by contacting them through official channels. Be vigilant, especially during periods of public panic.
Be wary of cybercriminals who take advantage of consumers through fake charities. Fully research an organization before contributing.
McAfee insists on the importance of exercising caution whenever using digital communication with unfamiliar parties. Use safe browsing extensions to decipher which sites are safe and which are high risk.
Also, avoid suspicious website addresses and ensure there is a secure connection beginning with “HTTP”. Take advantage of identity protection services that monitor your accounts, and parental controls to protect children and limit their time online.
It is important to be watchful, diligent, and skeptical to some degree whenever consuming any new information. The more sensational the story, the more prudent it is to exercise caution. Question everything.