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Fake News - how to recognize and protect yourself against them?

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, false videos, images, social media posts, and comments about the war have been spread around the internet. The information war is an important element of this hybrid aggression of Russia. Even though we’re lucky to be physically safe in our homes, we’re all targets of digital manipulation. And we’ve been for a while, fake news was propagated by foreign countries and organizations during U.S. presidential election, the Covid-19 pandemic, and several other occasions.

We believe that fact-checking is a vital and empowering skill. Nowadays, it’s also our responsibility to stop fake news from spreading. That’s why we compiled a list of practices our team employs to identify false and misleading information.

How to identify fake news?

When we’re swamped with information coming from different sources in real-time, we need to stay alert and check every piece of news, be it a viral TikTok, a tweet from a self-proclaimed expert, or an old-school Facebook post telling a story about a friend of your cousin’s mother-in-law. Before you get excited, before you comment, before you click share, make sure you:

1. Consider the source

If the information comes from a big media outlet, especially with a journalistic tradition, it has a higher chance of being verified. Professional journalists are skilled in fact-checking and have access to experts and software that support the process. If you suspect that the information may be biased because of the publication’s preferences, look at whether other outlets are reporting the same news and how they describe them.

2. Carefully look at the address bar and URL

Make sure there is an s in the URL – the address should begin with https://. It means that the site uses secured encryption, however, it can still be a scam. Also, don’t trust addresses with misspellings or do.ts in the midd.le of word.s. You can simply google the publication name and verify the original URL.

3. Check the author

Study previous publications of the author, their education, and other credentials. Double-check all other points in the case that the author is anonymous or uses a nick rather than a name and surname.

4. Check the publication date

Some information might have been 100% true but in 2012. Old news can also give false context to current affairs.

5. Verify the original source(s)

Information without a source is a waste of time. Trusted publications always provide links to their sources or mention where the data comes from. Due to the networked nature of the internet, much of the information comes to us second-hand, and can be biased (deliberately or not). We need to access and verify the original source of each piece of information. It should be a trusted publisher, academic study, press agency, industry report, etc. Also, when someone is using figures such as people say, it’s a widely-known fact, we all know that – ask, what people, where, how many, how do you know that.

6. Verify the original source of photos

Make sure the photos reflect the described topic or event and were not photoshopped. The easiest way to do it is to use Google Images.

7. Keep an eye out on controversial topics

Fake news about controversial topics contributes to political polarization, research says. While we’re carelessly scrolling through our socials, companies, organizations, and governments compete for our attention. At the same time, social media and the internet, in general, overtake traditional channels as the preferred source of news. They promote free speech, but also provide an unfiltered and easily-manipulated stream of information. Stay alert when the topic is controversial or someone is presenting an extreme opinion. You can read more about the manipulation methods used in social media in this article published by The Guardian.

8. Watch for poor grammar and spelling

Fake news sites and articles are full of poor spelling and grammatical errors. They tend to look sloppy and generally don’t focus on design and code quality.

9. Be skeptical

Always start with a question: why this person/organization is sharing this news with me at this time? All of us have our biases, but once we recognize them, we are less likely to be manipulated.

Useful tools and sources

Luckily, there ale some tools and websites that make fact-checking and fake news reporting easier:

Some more links for Polish-speakers reading our blog:

Fact-check and stop fake news!

Fake news has been around forever. But the growing role and scale of social media as a platform to share information and shape opinions made us more exposed to misinformation. Our ability to verify facts is the only way to protect ourselves from fake news and information war. Because fake news is yet another weapon used by people who are willing to spread disinformation and grow polarization to achieve their goals.

We believe that fact-checking and awareness of the problem, are extremely important in today’s world. We hope you’ve found this article useful and will be more cautious reading and sharing information online.

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