We just need to turn on the TV these days and we’re constantly confronted with false information and allegations of fake news. However, moving beyond the headlines, what is fake news? Why should we be worried about it? How do we identify it and how can we avoid being pulled in? These are the questions I’m seeking to answer with this post.
I’m going to stick with the term “fake news” for this post, but I do want to acknowledge that because of the political connotations now attached to the term, we are being encouraged to use the term False Information outside of the political arena. Regardless of the name we give this phenomenon it is insipid, and can cause a lot of confusion and damage when people believe the stories are true, so lets look at how to identify and avoid it. There is so much focus on fake news sometimes that its difficult to know what’s real and the real stories are lost as the false information gets more attention.
Defining Fake News
At its most basic, we are talking about any information which is untrue or partially untrue and is being reported in the press or social media etc, where this false/fake news story is being perpetuated. Social Media has made it much quicker and easier to spread news and stories, including fake news – so very quickly false or inaccurate information can go global.
Fake news can be either deliberate, setting out to mislead or misinform people, knowing that the details/information is false. Conspiracy theories are example of fake news. People buy into the false information being fed to them. think of some of the stories/conspiracy theories circulating at the outbreak of Covid-19 and some of the scaremongering about the vaccines; if we continue to consider this, how many lives were put at risk because the fear of the vaccines was greater than the fear of the virus thanks to some fake news stories. (I actually had a former friend who believed the vaccines would make us regress and no longer be humans and the international political powers were driving this to take away all our rights – I wonder why people seem to accept such stories without considering any of the evidence purportedly backing this up).
The second type of fake news can be well intentioned. You hear a story and believe it to be true, but don’t check the facts and pass the information on. If that story ends up being false, you have created and are responsible for the spreading of fake news. This type of fake news may not have been deliberate, but if you consider how some social media posts can go viral, you can see how much of a problem it might be, to try and correct that false information.
Currently in the UK there has been a woman missing for 3 weeks where police investigations into her disappearance have been hampered as they cannot ignore fake news stories circulating on social media. There has been at least one instance of a social media influencer who was arrested because of his involvement in encouraging fake news stories. I don’t think these stories were malicious, but even though well intended, they did cause a lot of problems. See this BBC report for some insight.
A third definition we require to explore is where something is claimed erroneously to be fake news. This could be where someone disagrees/dislikes some facts and tires to discredit them by attempting to label them as fake news. This approach is used to try and discredit something which is real, maybe because someone disagrees with or is unhappy about the facts/the reality.
The best way to deal with such fears, such ignorance, is by being informed. By ensuring you think critically about whatever you’re reviewing and applying evidence-based practice and critical thinking skills, you should hopefully be able to identify and avoid fake news.
Identifying Fake News
When looking at information, you shouldn’t just take it at face value; you should think about what you are reading/looking at. Does it sound plausible? Do you believe it? Where did the author get the information from? Have they given you references for their sources? Are they presenting opinions or facts?
You should also look at who is writing. Are they a trustworthy source? Is the website genuine or fake (have a look at the url – is it what you expect to see – just the same as you can recognise spam emails)?
If you do an internet search can you find the same information online from other reputable sources. If they are also reporting the same information independently, then its more likely to be genuine.
When you are researching – whether its for something serious (work, studies, blogging) or more relaxed, you want to make sure you have all the facts, and that you have accurate and up-to-date information. Making good use of evidence contributes to that. To ensure good evidence-based practice you should read/investigate widely from a range of reliable, trustworthy and credible sources. Where possible also try to look for proof that the work you are reviewing is using evidence too.
That’s my explanation of fake news, but I’d like to open up discussion – should we take action when we discover Fake News? And if so, what should that action be? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
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