“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
― Mark Twain


#FAKENEWS has dominated our conversations and permeated the fabric of our culture for the last few years. Here are a few tips to protect yourself and your brand from falling prey to fake news.

Beware of stories that don’t make sense

Like most people, you probably get a fair amount of your news from apps, sites, and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Apple News, and Google. You should change that. One of the key signs of fake news is that the stories are highly improbable. During Hurricane Irma, a hugely popular viral story claimed that it was a Category Six hurricane, and would “wipe cities off the map”. Category Six hurricanes do not exist. Untrustworthy news and political campaigns often use statistics to make bogus claims—rightfully assuming most readers won’t take the time to fact-check them. Simple mathematical calculations, which scholars call Fermi estimates or rough guesstimates, can help you better spot falsified data. 

Seek out your own credible news sources

Social media platforms are not news outlets. Their goal is to maximize the time you spend on their sites and apps, generating advertising revenue. To that end, their algorithms use your browsing history to show you news you’ll agree with and like, keeping you engaged for as long as possible. The information feed to you is generated via algorithms and may deliver politically biased information, outright falsehoods, or material based on past searches or content you have viewed before .

Most disinformation campaigns exploit less obvious cognitive biases. For example, humans are biased to underestimate costs or look for information that confirms what they already believe. One important bias of news audiences is a preference for simple soundbites, which often fail to capture the complexity of important problems. Research has found that intentionally fake news stories are more likely to use short, nontechnical, and redundant language than accurate journalistic stories.

Most importantly check the name of the news site that published the story. The names of sites publishing news stories are often a hint that stories may be fake. Unfamiliar sites built to sound like news organizations are behind many fake news stories. One of the more popular publishers of fake news, YourNewsWire, for instance, has published stories suggesting that the flu vaccine actually causes the flu and that Hitler faked his suicide and escaped. When The Denver Guardian made claims about Hillary Clinton’s emails, there was one small problem – there is no such paper as The Denver Guardian. It just sounds real when it is completely fake.

Be wary of headlines which are trying to trigger negative reaction 

Headlines that seek to provoke anger are a sign of fake news. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, the purpose of fake news is often to drive two groups apart and fuel prejudice and intergroup conflict. A recent example of this is the mass belief that 5G raditaion is connected to Covid-19 outbreak.  The stories were numerous and varied, but one popular one was that Covid-19 was caused by 5G radiation. In Britain, 5G masts were attacked, and blame was often pointed at Bill Gates in what became an increasingly Byzantine conspiracy theory.

Google-search the images
Fake news sites will often use criminal mugshots from unrelated stories, for instance, or doctored images. Google-search the images to check for their veracity against other legitimate news sites and to see where they came from. Many viral hoax stories will use deliberately disturbing or graphic imagery in an attempt to hook in readers.  

Look out for hoaxes spread by fake celebrity accounts
Sometimes stories can spread online after being shared by a fake celebrity, a social media account designed to impersonate a real person. Think about the fake tweets that were supposedly sent out by billionaire Warren Buffett. Someone was impersonating him, and millions of people did not notice that the Twitter handle read Warren Buffet while his real name is Warren Buffett.”

Is there replication and validation of the story?
See if the the same story been published elsewhere? If multiple sources are covering it, it’s more likely legitimate than if this is the your only source. If not, it could be unreliable. What website are you reading it from? Does the address look dodgy or untrustworthy? If so, you should

Question the intentions and purpose of the author
Question the intentions of the author and ask, what is the purpose of this news story? News stories are supposed to be objective, if what was presented to you evokes some kind of emotion, then it means that either the author is biased or you are. Be honest with yourself about this and assess both possibilities. Notably, this ‘emotion evoking’ is commonplace in pieces like editorials or opinion-based articles; so, it’s not always necessarily fake news. With that, however, you must be aware of the piece’s format, its role and its purpose.

Don’t just read the headline – dig deeper. Read the full article and assess the sources of the claims