Fake news

A young person is looking through binoculars wondering how to spot fake news. In the background are the words "click bait", a space ship and a meteor representing fake news stories

Fake news is a term that gets thrown around a lot, in fact 45% of the British public believe they encounter fake news online every day*, which is why it’s so important to understand.

But what is fake news? What does it mean exactly and how do we know if something is fake news or not? We explore the murky world of misinformation, why it can be so dangerous and how to make sure the information you’re consuming is trustworthy.  

What is fake news? 

Fake news is essentially information that isn’t true. It’s usually spread on social media platforms and it tends to be very attention grabbing, which means it gets shared a lot. Most people sharing fake news don’t realise it is fake – they share it because it sounds juicy, and us humans like the feeling of telling other people juicy gossip they don’t already know. 

Fake news can include made up news stories, edited videos and photoshopped images. For clarity’s sake, this is what the Cambridge Dictionary has to say about the matter. 

Fake News: False stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views, or as a joke.

Misinformation: False information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.

Disinformation: Deliberately misleading or biassed information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.

Why do people create fake news? 

People create fake news stories for a whole heap of – usually dodgy – reasons. It could be a way of damaging another person’s reputation, it could be used to sell a product or it could be simply to make you laugh and reach lots of views online. Some fake news examples include: 

  • A fake news story written by a politician or political party to promote their own political agenda or to make another political party/figure look bad. This can also be known as propaganda. 
  • A photoshopped image or edited video that makes it look like a famous person is doing or saying something they’re not. This could be done to humiliate or discredit that person, or simply to entertain.  
  • False facts or conspiracy theories about public health – for example, some content falsely claims coronavirus can be transmitted through 5G networks or that the covid vaccine contains a microchip. 
  • False claims or content made by a company to make them look more sustainable than they really are – this is also known as greenwashing. 

What’s the risk with fake news? 

Not all fake news is super sinister. For example, an edited video of a dog talking is hardly going to break the world. But sadly, fake news does have a nasty side – below we explore why.

  • Fake news is often designed to make you feel anxious. The people creating fake news stories know that people are more likely to consume and share stories that are attention grabbing in a scary kind of way. In a world where the real news is anxiety-inducing enough, the last thing we need is more scaremongering news. 
  • Fake news is a threat to democracy. When people create fake news stories, they are influencing the way people think. For example, if fake news stories are attacking a political party or politician and we believe that content is real, this could influence the way we vote. 
  • Fake news spreads hatred. Fake news often creates a false perception of a person or group of people. Fake news can be racist, islamophobic or sexist (among other things) and it can be used to drive hatred and conspiracy theories.

How to spot fake news

Identifying fake news isn’t always easy, but it often comes down to engaging your critical thinking brain before you engage with something online. For example, if you come across something online that seems outlandish, you can engage your critical thinking by asking a few questions… is this coming from a reputable news source? Is there an agenda behind this content? And is this going to hurt someone if I share it? 

Here are some helpful tips from the experts at Boxphish for learning to spot fake news:

F – facts, are they facts as you’d expect, or do they appear to have been embellished for dramatic effect?

A – anyone else reporting? Can you find this story anywhere else? If not, that’s a good indication that it could be fake.

K – knowledge – does it make sense? You can review a lot of news articles using common sense; if something sounds too fantastical or out of this world, are you sure it’s going to be true?

E – extreme views, does the article seem particularly opinionated or targeted compared to what you’d expect from an impartial news piece?

How to avoid fake news

The internet has been around long enough for us to know that what we see and read online can affect how we feel. The last thing we need is fake news making us feel crap, angry or sad about something that isn’t even true. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the news and content we’re consuming is legit. Some things you can do to avoid fake news: 

  • Get your news stories from reputable places. Make a point of following reputable news sources online. The BBC is a good place for fact checking and they even have a whole section online dedicated to helping you identify fake news stories. Another good source is Full Fact – a service designed to uncover fake news stories and fake viral content. 
  • Don’t engage with extremist content. If you come across something online which seems kind of wild, make sure to cross-reference the story, making sure it’s true before you go ahead and like, comment or share. 
  • Avoid click-bait. The authors of fake news often try to make their title or intro as juicy as possible in order to try and tempt people to click through, so beware of sensational titles. Click-bait can also put you more at risk of cybercrime and malware attacks, with fraudsters posting malicious links in click-bait articles to get more people to click on it.
  • Mess with the algorithm. The more you engage with fake news stories, the more social media algorithms will send them your way. You can mess with the algorithms by unfollowing dodgy news sources, following news sources you know are trustworthy (like the BBC) and by ignoring any content you’re unsure about. 

If you’re worried about fake news

If you’ve seen something that’s upset you, or worried you and you want to chat it through in a safe, confidential space, get in touch with our support team who are there to support you with any and every issue.

*Source: https://journolink.com/resources/post/319-fake-news-statistics-2019-uk-worldwide-data

Next Steps

By Olivia Capadose

Updated on 08-Feb-2023

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