Fake news or information disorder is false or misleading information presented as news. Fake news often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue. Although false news has always been spread throughout history, the term “fake news” was first used in the 1890s when sensational reports in newspapers were common.
Know why something might be misinformation
Think about who would benefit from spreading confusing information during a news event, and brush up on specific narratives going around. During elections, for example, experts say to look out for conflicting information and conspiracy theories, baseless accusations and unfounded concerns about voter fraud that may benefit one political party or candidate. Propaganda is also used as a tool during armed conflict and can come through official news releases or feed through unofficial channels.
If something feels too outrageous or satisfying, regardless of whether it lines up with your views, pause and do more research. Misinformation is often accidentally spread by people who want it to be true. The people behind it could be trying to rile up supporters or create more tension between opposing sides of an issue, or generally destabilize a population. You may not always be able to find an accurate version of events, especially in fast-moving situations. In those cases, wait as long as it takes for additional information before sharing or drawing conclusions.
Not all misinformation is serious. Some is created just for fun or to troll people, so be as skeptical of silly stories as serious ones.
Use credible sources
Using credible sources in your content strengthens your message, but which ones you choose to use will have your audience decide if your message is worth listening to. Do not rely on sources that are opinion-based, have no sources, or seem partisan.
Keep ethics in view when sharing news
Is it immoral to share fake news? Most of us would say so, but one study revealed that we can easily lose sight of this fact. Repeated exposure to a fake news headline caused study participants to rate it as less unethical to publish and share. While major societal changes may be required to restore trust and fix what is broken in our media landscape, we can each play a part in improving it by holding one another accountable and by recognizing that we are performing a moral act each time we participate in the spread of information, even if it involves just a few clicks of our mouse.
Know your enemies. One strategy is called “prebunking” – a type of debunking you do before you hear myths and lies. By familiarizing yourself with the tricks of the disinformation trade, you get better at recognizing false information.
A fun way to educate yourself is to play the game, “Bad News”. Developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, it has shown to improve players’ identification of falsehoods. It makes use of the inoculation theory in social psychology. By running through obvious scenarios of how you can manipulate and spread false information on Twitter, you are inoculated against future threats. This is similar to how exposing your body to a weakened virus increases its resistance against a stronger version.
Recognize your biases
No one is more easily misled than those who underestimate their biases. Most people believe that they themselves are not biased, but others are. Therefore, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what your biases are.
Also, be especially critical of information from groups or people you agree with. Science states that we are all guilty of confirmation bias. In other words, we are susceptible to misinformation that aligns with and confirms our preexisting views. Keep in mind that on social media platforms, you decide whose posts you want to read. You are building an echo chamber there with both the sites’ algorithms and the people you choose to follow. To fight against this, consider different points of views and look for other sources.