Staying Critical Online

The past year has seen the development of a widespread and important problem: the spreading of an enormous quantity of false information online. Fake news is made with the sole intention to be satirical and ironic. However, other news articles are created to be sensational and generate clicks and likes. Moreover, some fake news are propaganda websites that have a specific interest behind the information they convey. Research shows that adults get a good proportion of their news and information from the internet and social media. Most people are therefore at risk of taking false information and believing it to be true. The problem is that fake and real news or information are presented in such a similar way that it is becoming very difficult to differentiate the two. How can you distinguish them? Forbes has given a good list of things to look for when reading information or articles online (See reference below):

  • Look for the URL: If the URL has “.com.co” at the end, the .co is used to mimic the URL of a real website. For example, someone could take the URL of the BBC website and put “.co” at the end to make it look like it is an official website of the BBC.
  • Look for the date: sometimes old news articles are recycled.
  • Be conscious of your bias! Are you interested in this news because it confirms an opinion you already have? This may be one reason why we consider something to be true when it isn’t.
  • Be aware of the site’s bias! Is it a partisan website? Does it have any political interests?
  • Is there any evidence for the article or website’s claims? It is important to assess whether there is any evidence given in the article and whether the evidence matches the claims the article makes. Does the article contradict its title? It’s always important to read the whole article; sometimes the headline is made to be sensational and generate clicks while the headline actually misrepresents the information in the article .
  • Was it taken from somewhere else? Always verify the source provided and counter verify the information. Can you find it somewhere else? More importantly, can you find it from a more credible source of information?

What are the reasons for creating and spreading fake news or information online? For some fake news is about making money, since they get paid for the attention their news receives. However, fake news can also be about getting a political message across. Some of the sites and news websites on the internet are what we call propaganda. Per Oxford dictionary, propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” Propaganda can come from different sources, such as government or political parties. Propaganda, though, can also come from extremists’ groups. Those groups often create websites and news pages that resemble any other credible and legitimate website. The problem is that they are trying to get a specific message across and will write things to promote their goals even when what they are writing isn’t true.

Always stay critical online and ensure that you know who is behind the information and what could be their interest in you believing this information. Anyone can create a website in a couple of hours and write whatever they would like. This is what is amazing about the internet, but it is a double-edged sword. It’s not because it is written that it becomes truth.

Sources:

BBC. 2016. “The Rise and Rise of Fake news”. Available Online: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-37846860.

Oxford Dictionary. N.d. “Propaganda Definition”. Available Online : https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/propaganda

Pew Research Center. 2016. “The modern News Consumer”. Available Online: http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/pathways-to-news

Statistics Canada. 2016. “Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey. The Use of Media to Follow News and Current Affairs”. Available Online: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2016001-eng.htm

Willingham, Emily. 2016. “A Scientific Approach To Distinguishing Real From Fake News”. Available Online: http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/11/28/a-scientific-approach-to-distinguishing-real-from-fake-news/#56b4aead2692

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