WHAT IS FAKE NEWS?
Fake news contains false stories that appear to be news. It is often spread online or on social media. The stories can be entirely untrue, or be based on true events but not be accurate. They can either contain misinformation (inaccurate information shared by accident) or disinformation (deliberately shared false information).
WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?
Articles containing disinformation often aim to make people believe something false. This can be as a joke, or to change the way readers vote or shop. Fake news about political events, such as elections, is common and can influence important decisions. One study found that 25% of US citizens visited a fake news website in the run up to the presidential election. Right now, it is especially important to be able to recognise it as new myths about coronavirus are published every day.
It is hard to control the spread of these articles. Apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter make it easy for stories to quickly reach millions of people. A large proportion of Africans use these apps and the internet for news. Data shows that people under 50 get half their news online. Older people may also be vulnerable as they often have less experience using technology.
TIPS TO RECOGNISE FAKE NEWS:
- Be critical
Fake stories are often written to shock, so it’s vital to keep emotions in check. Be prepared to ask yourself questions before accepting an article as truth.
- Check the Source
Look at the website address. A strange ending such as “.offer” or “.com.co” suggests it could be an unprofessional site. Research who the publisher is: do they seem trustworthy? If the website has an “about” section, look to see what the organisation’s aims and views are.
Look at other credible websites to see if there are similar stories. Organisations that reliably fact check their articles such as [wiki]CNN[/wiki] or [wiki]BBC[/wiki] are a good place to start.
- Check the evidence
A reliable article should contain lots of quotes or statistics. If there aren’t many facts in it, or quotes are from unknown sources, it could be fake. Also, look at the quality of the writing. Key warning signs are spelling errors, lots of capitals or dramatic punctuation.
Finally, ask: does it sound right? A story that seems unbelievable is likely to be so.
THE FUTURE OF FAKE NEWS
WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in Africa, is aware of this problem and is taking action. Recently, they increased limits on message forwarding to try and reduce the spread of false information. Now, after a single message has been forwarded 5 times it may only be sent on to one chat at a time. Combined with increased awareness, the spread of fake news can be largely reduced.