Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fake news

Anyone can post a story online and news travels fast on social media. So we need to question what we read and watch, before trusting that it's right.

It has always been possible to spread fake news, but self-publishing and social media mean that false or misleading information can be created and shared incredibly fast, going to a lot of people before anyone has even stopped to ask if it’s true. 

Sometimes fake news can be found in your social media newsfeeds, in online videos and chat apps. But it can be very hard to spot, if the person who posted the false information, images or videos made them look and sound real. 

Often, this kind of content is spread to try to influence the way people think, act, shop or vote. But some politicians and other people with high public profiles claim that anything they don’t like is ‘fake news’. Don’t be tricked by this. If something is being reported by multiple journalists and trusted news outlets and they can show where the information from, it’s not likely to be ‘fake news’.

Do your bit to stop fake news from spreading by learning how you can sort the online truths from the lies.

How to tell if it’s fact or fiction

Double check — who is the news source?

If you are scrolling fast through the headlines in your social media feed you may not get the full picture. So slow down and look more closely at the details before you believe what you see. 

If you think a story you are reading or watching could be untrue or misleading, check the information by doing your own web searches to see if anyone else has reported the same thing. Are the journalists or news outlets that are reporting it well known? Do they have a lot of followers? This might show they are a trusted source of information. 

The main news outlets may occasionally be biased or get something wrong, but they are usually pretty careful and you can make a complaint if the facts don’t stack up.

Also think about the photos or videos you see. Have they been edited so they don’t show the whole story? Search online to check if there are different versions – sometimes they give you more information about what happened and why.

If there’s a story that seems amazing or incredible check that it says where the information came from. If there are quotes from ‘sources’ who are not named it may just be rumour or not true at all. Sometimes these headlines and stories are ‘clickbait’ -- fake news, sensational claims or special offers that are too good to be true. They are usually aimed at getting you to click on a link to a site that has lots of advertising. 

Question what you see and hear

Be alert to things that seem extremely one-sided and are clearly trying to make you think their way.

Ask some quick questions:

  • Is the article based on fact or opinion?
  • If it’s an ‘opinion piece’, does the writer include the point of view of anyone who disagrees with them?
  • Does the headline match the content of the article?
  • Do the quotes make sense and match the rest of the story, or do they seem to be missing the wider context of what was said and done, and why?
  • Does the article match the news source it was based on? Some people rewrite stories or change the facts to fit their point of view. 
  • Does the story attack a broad group — such as ‘the media’, ‘the government’, ‘people on welfare’ or ‘refugees’? Lots of fake news is written to make you think certain groups are your enemy.
  • Does the story make you so angry or surprised that you don’t want to believe it? Listen to your doubts and do more research.

Think about different opinions

Just because a lot of people are sharing something doesn’t mean it should be believed. Carefully consider all sides to the story, often the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

Try to read articles from a variety of news sources, so you can learn about different experiences and opinions. But use your critical thinking skills to make your own decisions about what to say or do. 

If you are not sure about a story, sometimes it helps to talk it over with a friend or adult you trust. They may give you a new viewpoint or a good idea for finding out the facts.

Stop fake news spreading

If you notice a story is wrong, misleading or fake don’t share it.

If you know the real story, post that to the group or in the comments section where you found the fake news and do your bit to spread the truth.

You can also report a post as false news on Facebook and some other social media sites and search engines.

Sometimes you get it wrong — but don’t worry we all do!

Don’t be hard on yourself if you share fake news or get the story wrong sometimes. It’s never too late to do something about it. Correct your mistake and let people know that the story was wrong, or simply delete the post so it can’t be shared anymore.