With the European elections just one day away, researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute have been looking into whether there has been a spike in the proliferation of fake news across social media platforms.
Early indications suggest that the dissemination of fake news stories across Facebook and Twitter has been relatively low in comparison to stories from reliable news sources.
It’s not all good news though, as one of the more worrying findings revealed that individual fake news stories were more likely to be shared on Facebook than stories from mainstream news organisations.
What is fake news?
Fake news is simply a news story that isn’t true. There are two kinds of fake news story:
- Untruths – These are false stories that are deliberately published and shared in order to make people believe something untrue, or generate clicks or social media shares. Essentially, these are deliberate lies that are designed to spread misinformation. Although the person writing them knows they are false, the people sharing them often do not.
- Inaccuracies – These are stories that may have some truth to them, but are in some way inaccurate, either because the writer hasn’t checked their facts, or are being deliberately disingenuous to suit an agenda.
Why do people share fake news?
Fake news has always been around, it just seems to be more prevalent right now as more people have the means and the inclination to share such stories, especially if they help confirm a particular view they hold.
This idea of confirmation bias – favoring information that confirms your previously existing beliefs or biases – means that even if there are fewer fake news stories than real news stories, the fake ones are more likely to be shared. For instance, the Oxford study found that while mainstream news was more visible, stories from junk news sources proved far more engaging, with the average junk news story getting four times as many likes and other Facebook interactions as a story from a professional news organisation.
How to spot fake news
As believable as a story may sound, or as much as you want to believe it, there are telltale signs in all fake news stories. So, before you share a story, always consider the following:
- Are you reading or seeing the story on a reliable website?
- Is the website or social account you’re reading it on look genuine, or is it a copycat or parody site or account?
- Have you seen the story reported anywhere else?
- Have you heard of the organisation that published the story?
- Does the website address at the very top of the page look real? Is the end of the website something normal like ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.com’, and not something unusual, like ‘com.co’?
- Does the photo or video look like it may have been altered in any way?
- Does the story sound believable?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, you should check at least two other reliable news outlets, to see if the story has been reported on there.
If you’re unsure, you should always refrain from sharing the story.