Telling fact from fiction: How to identify a fake news story

23.04.2020 · By Camilla Allen

In times of crisis, the need for responsible journalism is more important than ever. But in order to rise above fake news and deliver accurate, well-informed information to the public, journalists must navigate a barrage of misinformation and disinformation first.

The covid-19 pandemic has put an enormous amount of pressure on newsrooms across the globe. With unprecedented demand from the public for the latest information and advice, journalists must undergo rigorous investigation to deliver the most accurate up-to-the-minute coverage of the crisis, around the clock.

Find out how artificial intelligence is helping journalists report quickly on the coronavirus pandemic in Why journalism expert Charlie Beckett doesn’t fear AI in content creation: Part 2.

But with disinformation – false or misleading information spread deliberately to deceive – flooding messaging apps and social media platforms from all angles, journalists not only face a public health pandemic, they face a disinformation pandemic too.

Agents of disinformation view a peak in public interest and anxiety levels as an opportunity to take advantage. People are more likely than ever to forward on scaremonger stories and half-baked conspiracy theories. Therefore the fight for truth in uncertain times must be persistent.

Fortunately, UK government specialist units are in operation to fight the spread of false news. They are identifying and tackling five to ten incidents a day. Also fronting the battle are messaging and social media platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

Facebook users will now receive a pop-up alert advising them to consult the World Health Organisation’s website. This is if they have read, watched or shared false coronavirus content. In addition, the company has invested $100 million to support news organisations and reporters. They aim to help those working under extraordinary conditions to keep people well informed.

Similarly, WhatsApp is working with the World Health Organisation to enable users to access information from reputable sources at the tap of a finger. Users are also urged to double-check information that seems suspicious or inaccurate with official IFCN Fact Checking Organisations.

Nevertheless, journalists should still be prepared to tread carefully in their research. First Draft has created a useful dashboard and an essential guide to verifying online information to help news reporters with online social newsgathering, verification and responsible reporting. Google Trends can also be used to identify rising narratives around the pandemic.

We at LOYAL AI have also put together a list of seven things to help you spot a fake news story:

1. Consider the name of the news site that published the content

Be wary of a website you have never heard of before or one that sounds similar to a site you already recognise, e.g. forbesbusinessinsider.com. Fake sites can hide behind reputable names and often use bots to give the impression of high traffic. If in doubt, check the URL and be careful of unusual domain names like “.com.co.”

Use Google Fact Check Explorer to view a timeline of current fact-checks that have been carried out on a specific topic or individual.

2. Look out for pretend social media accounts

Illegitimate social media profiles are big spreaders of disinformation and propaganda. New fraudulent accounts are created every day, impersonating celebrities, CEOs, businesses and users. Look for a verification indicator (a blue tick next to their name) on the social media accounts of high-profile users.

3. Be wary of headlines trying to provoke anger

Creators of fake news stories often rely on shocking headlines to invoke feelings of anger or fear in individuals. This is because it increases the likelihood of content being shared and reaching a larger audience.

4. Check against other websites

If the same information hasn’t been reported elsewhere, it is likely that other journalists have identified this information as not valid. Avoid reporting on news you are unsure about.

You can also use Meedan’s tool Check to verify photos and text. It enables journalists to fact-check during breaking news and supports crowdsourcing of investigative evidence.

5. Watch out for bad grammar

Does the article include a lot of CAPITALS, incorrect spelling or emphasised punctuation?!! Be careful. Reputable sources will have high standards for proofreading and grammar.

6. Reverse search suspect images

You can screenshot and perform a reverse Google search on images used in the article to see if they are used elsewhere on the internet. Often creators of fake news will use old images relating to other events but with a bit of investigative work you can often find the original source of the image.

Reveal Image Verification Assistant can be used to identify whether an image has been doctored. Simply upload or link to a photo and it’ll deal with the digital image forensics. TinEye is also helpful for finding out where else the image used appears online.

7. Take the Google News Initiative Verification Tools Course

The Google News Initiative Verification Tools Course will help you to verify the authenticity and accuracy of images, videos and reports found online. It will guide you through the use of Google Search, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Translate effectively to save time researching accurately.

Find out how LOYAL AI’s editorial research assistants can help you research faster with quick access to insights relevant to your article as you write in real-times, all without leaving your creative space.

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