- Fake news is a term used to describe fictional news stories that are made up to support certain agendas.
- Understanding what fake news and misinformation looks like can help you to avoid sharing it and there are red flags you can look out for.
- It’s everyone’s responsibility to call out fake news, to keep themselves and their community safe.
What is fake news?
It’s likely you’ve heard of fake news before – it’s used to describe false or misleading information. But as the name suggests, ‘fake news’ can be hard to spot and even harder to define.
So, how can you tell if what you’re engaging with is real or fake – and why does it even matter?
What is fake news, misinformation and disinformation?
Ever tell a lie because you wanted to believe in it? Or because the lie supported your personal views? Fake news came into being for similar reasons.Screen reader users: Select a button below to change content below it. You can skip to the expanded section directly by skipping to the heading.
This refers to false information that has been created in a way that makes it look like a trustworthy news report.
This is incorrect or misleading information presented as fact, either intentionally or unintentionally.
This is information that is deliberately incorrect. Disinformation can include made-up information, like statistics or scientific opinions.
Why does fake news exist?
Fake news can help a political agenda
A fictional piece of information can help certain political parties or figures validate their opinions, and can be used to convince people to vote for them.
Fake news can sometimes be easier to believe than real news
Other people might choose to engage with fake news as a more comforting version of the truth.
Fake news can get more people to engage with news content
In our click-driven world, controversial headlines also generate more attention, engagement and subscribers. That means there’s ample motivation for some news websites to share or even create fake news – even if it hurts others.
Why is it important to identify and report fake news?
It’s everyone’s responsibility to identify and report fake news. A collective effort to prevent the spread of fake news can help to keep your community feeling safe, capable of identifying fake news and clear about what the truth is.
By calling out and reporting fake news, you can empower other members of your social media networks to think more critically about the content they are engaging with.
Tips to spot fake news
Check the story’s source and credibility
The first thing you should do if you come across a fishy story on the timeline, is to check the story’s credibility. Ask yourself:
- Do you recognise the account or news site that’s sharing the story?
- Does the person who’s reporting the information have the right credentials to tell this story?
If the answer to these two questions isn’t a confident ‘yes’, this could be a sign you’ve stumbled onto fake news. Fake news is often published by ‘independent’ organisations or reporters – meaning people who may not have done appropriate research.
Check for biases or an agenda
Understanding how or why the story was written can also tell you a lot about its facts. If the story was shared onto your timeline by a specific account, try to figure out that account’s intentions. What do they want you to do or believe after reading the information they’re sharing – and does that action or belief seem reasonable?
Consider how the story is written
If you’re still unsure, it may be worth opening the article itself. The way a news story is written is often a giveaway to whether it’s fake news. The story may be fake news if it:
- uses simplistic terms or emotionally-charged terms for complex issues
- employs or references stereotypes without acknowledgement or context
- references incorrect or outdated information
- employs sensational headings rather than focusing on facts
- misspells words or uses incorrect grammar
- uses low-resolution pictures, or pictures that appear manipulated.
Generally speaking, people who create fake news are less interested in reporting the truth as they are in producing sensational content or information that furthers their interests.
If you feel comfortable and want to engage, do a deeper dive
Fake news is getting more sophisticated by the day, which means it’s harder to catch. If you’re still unsure – but are mentally prepared to engage – it may be worth doing a deeper dive on what you’re reading.
Checking an article for disinformation, like the deliberate use of outdated, disproven, or irrelevant quotes, can help you figure out how much to trust it. If an article uses incorrect information, but doesn’t appear to have harmful intentions, it may just be misinformation.
You can learn more about how to identify and spot fake news and misinformation.
Social media literacy is a really important topic for me because I have a younger sister who's currently dealing with these kind of issues in her social circles, where really young kids are being exposed to social media without necessarily the tools to properly navigate that.
Between fake news, filters and the speed with which the online world is changing, it's getting harder and harder to tell what's real, what's not real and what you can trust.
There's no one good answer, but there is advice that can help.
Here's three tips to help you navigate social media with less stress.
Number one: remember social media is powered by algorithms.
Most social media platforms are powered by complex algorithms that show us profiles or posts they think we're likely to engage with, for better or for worse.
That means that in addition to seeing posts that may bring you joy, you may also be exposed to content that is harmful and targets your community or your values.
But remember that you don't need to engage with everything you see in your feed, especially if it upsets you or makes you feel uncomfortable.
Following or unfollowing certain profiles or tags can help the algorithm relearn what you're interested in.
Number two: remember that everyone has an agenda.
Everyone posts for a reason, whether they're a political figure and influencer or just a friend.
An influencer may want to grow their following, which could mean they use filters to change their appearance, or a political figure might want to start an unfair debate, which could mean that they misrepresent some of the facts.
Identifying a person's agenda and thinking critically about what they're posting can help you figure out how to engage with their content.
Number three: if in doubt, double check.
Sometimes people or sites misrepresent information and statistics to support their opinions.
Double checking who's written a story and thinking critically about why they may have written it can help you figure out if you can trust it.
It's everyone's responsibility to keep a critical eye on what they're engaging with.
Double checking the facts and the content you're sharing can help you keep yourself and your community safe.
Zara: Tips for navigating social media
Please remember: it’s OK to turn off and take a break from fact-checking fake news because it can be overwhelming! If the heading upsets you or you’d prefer not to learn more, you don’t have to engage.
It’s also important to remember: your social media algorithm affects what you see. There’s no way to know every detail that goes into algorithms, but if you like a post, it could mean that you will start to receive similar posts on this topic.
Following an account often means that similar accounts may be suggested to you. It also means that if you report, or unfollow an account, the algorithm is less likely to show these accounts to you.
Something has happened
Forgive yourself. Mistakes happen and it’s easy to get tripped up – that’s what fake news websites are banking on.
Delete the post and apologise. Providing some context around how you got confused could also help your friends to understand. Most people should understand, but if they use your mistake against you, this could be a sign the relationship isn’t as healthy as you thought.
Check your privacy settings. It’s a good idea to check your privacy settings to help prevent people sending you content that you don’t want to see. Find out more about privacy settings in specific social media services, games and apps in The eSafety Guide.
Get help and support. If the way people responded to your sharing fake news is really concerning you and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talk to a trusted adult. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, but talking to someone makes it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You can also seek help from confidential counselling and support services.
Call it out. If you feel confident and safe to do so, say something to the person who has shared the content. Let them know that they have shared fake news.
Let them know that what they have shared is untrue. You could also consider gently letting the person who shared the information know. If they ignore you, it’s not your responsibility to push them any further.
Screenshot, report and block on the platform. The eSafety Guide has information about how to do this on different online platforms. The platform can take down content that is untrue, misleading and causes harm.
While it’s generally a good idea to avoid engaging in the comments section of a controversial article, sometimes it’s hard to stop yourself.
If you’ve gotten involved and the conversation has escalated dangerously:
Ask them to stop. If you feel uncomfortable with the way someone is speaking to you, and you feel safe to do so, ask them to change their behaviour. It might not always work, but sometimes letting them know they’re upsetting you will make them reassess their actions.
Resist the urge to respond. It’s always OK to stop communicating with someone if you no longer feel comfortable. Mute the conversation and disengage.
Check your privacy settings. Set your account to ‘private’ or take a step back from your social media accounts altogether, if you need to.
While the people you’re arguing with might consider this a ‘win’, it doesn’t matter. It’s unlikely you’ll ever meet them again – and protecting yourself and your mental health comes first. The eSafety Guide has information about how to do this on different online platforms.
Get help and support. If the conversation is really concerning you and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talk to a trusted adult. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, but talking to someone makes it easier to decide what to do and how to deal with the impact. You can also seek help from confidential counselling and support services.
It can be incredibly hard to see a loved one sharing fake news, especially if it’s fake news that harms you or your friends. However, many people share fake news accidentally and are often willing to change.
Have a conversation with them. If you feel confident and safe to do so, say something to the person who has shared the content. Let them know that they have shared fake news and perhaps share tips with them on how to spot fake news.
Let them know that the content they have shared is untrue. While it’s not always your responsibility, you can let your family member know in the comments or in a private message.
Provide them with the right information. This will help them and others avoid misinformation in the future.
Screenshot, report and block on the platform. It’s important to still set boundaries with family members. If they don’t change their behaviour, you can confidentially report the content, or block them.
The eSafety Guide has information about how to do this on different online platforms. The platform can take down content that is untrue, misleading or causes harm.
Get help and support. If the content is really concerning you and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talk to a trusted adult. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, but talking to someone makes it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You can also seek help from confidential counselling and support services.