“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth puts on its shoes”. This famous sentiment by Mark Twain many years ago has never been truer than in the digital age of social media we now live in. While social media is a much welcome development because of the ease of connectivity and trove of useful information it makes easily accessible to the masses, it is also awash with what can otherwise be deemed garbage. We all know, have or are the Whatsapp forward “gurus” that are always flooding groups with countless forwards much to the chagrin of the group members who are seemingly held hostage by nothing more than ties that bind. While some of the forwards usually contain some useful tips most of them are usually full of unsubstantiated claims and theories that make sense at face value but do not hold up when a light is held to them. Many do not know how to tell the difference between forwards that one should pay attention to or those that should be ignored otherwise known in current parlance as “fake news”.
Right off the bat, we must each take personal responsibility to ensure the information is proper by evaluating the quality of the content that we are reading or viewing to determine whether it is true or not.
Fake news essentially is a cocktail of disinformation and misinformation with an additional sprinkle of sensationalism for effect. Misinformation has been defined as incorrect or misleading information; while disinformation has been defined as false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth. Social media timelines and platforms are full of articles, forwards, audio clips and videos that are spreading fake news. There is empirical evidence that lies and untruths online typically “travel” further and faster than do verified “facts” (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). As such, how then, is one expected to be able to tell the difference between real and fake news?
Right off the bat, we must each take personal responsibility to ensure the information is proper by evaluating the quality of the content that we are reading or viewing to determine whether it is true or not. One of the ways one can do this is by reading beyond the catchy title that is more often than not click bait and identifying the central message of the article, forward or video. Attention should be paid to the tone and manner of claims being made, if it is centered around outrageous claims, it is probably not credible or there is an off chance it is satirical and should be taken as a joke. Being keen about checking the date of the stories is another way of telling if it is relevant to current events or just being regurgitated to mislead. Always check the web domain and be on the look-out for odd ending domains like “.com.co” or “.lo” (e.g. healingcancer.com.co). A quick google search for more information on the same topic could also help in knowing whether the story is fake or credible, whereby it will be easy to find corroborating information online. One can visit also consult a fact checking site like https://www.factcheck.org/ in order to run a quick fact check. Video footage can also be faked in the world we live in. Linked here are useful tips on how to tell whether the video you are watching is fake or real footage of what actually happened. Always take a moment to pause and reflect before sharing that forward, article, link or video with your family or followers and not unwittingly contribute to spreading lies across the inter-webs.