Fake news is not new, but the use of the term has changed and now takes in false reporting, misinformation, spin, conspiracy theories and reporting that some people disagree with.
“If it’s on the internet then it must be true, and you can’t question it.” – Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
For a long time, reporting first on breaking news has been an important pursuit for journalists and news outlets. They need to be the first to get the views or clicks. But being first can come with the risk of misreporting information.
Some outlets pay close attention and triple-verify sources, but others will acknowledge and include false reports as part of their stories, prompting users to consider potentially false or unconfirmed information, even though they know it’s not true or is unconfirmed.
Fake news might not always be 100% fake. Instead, there could be parts of it that are false, like quotes from experts or small details. People may also say a story is ‘fake news’ if they don’t agree with what’s being reported.
Fake news might also leave out important information that could change how a reader understands and reacts to an issue. News stories tend to be biased and report from a specific angle and it is important to remember that.
This can be confusing for us all, and young people in particular need careful guidance on how to identify fake news and misinformation online.
It’s important to encourage young people to discuss the news with you, so you can figure it out together. It’s better for them to be sure before reacting, digesting false information, or sharing rumours online.
How to spot fake news:
Check the publisher – who or where did the story come from, what other stories do they have and what do you know about the news outlet?
Check the sources who does the news story quote? If they mention experts or other news outlets, you can google them to see if they check out.
Research it yourself – read past the headline, think about what the story is telling you and pay attention to dramatic language.
Check the date – when was the article published? It might be old or reposted.
Pay attention to images – they may not be recent and may have been reused or altered.
Pay attention to shared messages/screenshots – from doctors, politicians containing ‘warnings’ or ‘medical-advice’.
Use a fact checker – there’re lots of websites that check facts, and stories reported in the press. Have a look at Full Fact.
How young people can challenge a news story:
A note on Satire
Satire often mocks, jokes or parodies current events. Young people can be particularly vulnerable to mistaking satire as truth.
They should know that if something is sarcastic, odd, funny and dramatic at the same time, it might be satire. Some people can feel like the sarcastic tone is real.
Satire will sometimes use words with double meanings, lots of puns, or silly quotes. Satire is different from fake news; it uses sarcastic comedy on purpose to entertain people. It can trick young people, who might repost it as a truthful source if they aren’t familiar with the style.