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Definitive guide to identify fake news on social networks

March 17, 2020

Today there are many “news sites” that actually share alarming information to generate visits and make easy profits (especially in times of pandemic).

As you probably know, Mexicans used to depend on a single large television media corporation and some newspapers to know the events that were happening in the world. Back then, many journalists strongly believed that they had a sacred duty to give truthful information to help the public stay informed.

However, as the internet evolved, we began to encounter a crisis that no one could predict: the news is always available and comes from various sources. That is not bad, the problem is that many times we do not know if the data is real or not.

Definitive guide to identify fake news on social networksDefinitive guide to identify fake news on social networks

Social media helps share information, but people have started confusing legitimate news with notes designed to be click bait (just to be clicked). This causes us to sometimes share alarming news that is not real and that causes panic on issues that are not causing the situation.

The problem is so great that both Facebook and Google have announced that they are going to implement tools to eliminate this false news. However, both platforms cannot fully control all the links that people share on social media. They can only reduce ads and search rankings. That means that the responsibility to recognize and share only true news falls directly on you.

Did you ever think you would become a news expert? Our grandparents depended on the judgment of an editor who determined which news was the most important of the day (which they did not always do well or without interests involved). We live in a society where we have to determine what is trustworthy. This guide will help you detect false news on your social networks, especially in important moments such as those we are experiencing today with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

1. Traditional news

At journalism school, our teachers emphasize the importance of ethics, and when we graduate, we professionals are expected to behave at a certain level in the newsroom. Whether we work on television, newspapers, magazines or websites, true professionals ONLY REPORT EVENTS VALIDATED BY RECOGNIZED SOURCES .

In some cases, we work with cables from agencies such as the Associated Press , Reuters , AFP or Notimex . We may find out about an event through these services, but many times we have to do our own reporting and investigate on our own.

Professional journalists do much more than research some web pages. They make calls, interview, go to the scene, cover events, and so on.

That is, they do not write the data they found on a 2005 conspiracy page that is not endorsed by recognized sources. The Daily Dot has a listing of some sites with fake news in English.

2. Branded content

Public relations professionals are an important part of journalistic work. This means that informants constantly receive requests to cover launches, corporate activities and press releases. Brand-friendly content, which can be very useful and high-value when done correctly, is gaining popularity online.

As long as the information is useful and well reported, the reader can approach this information with confidence.

Unfortunately, there are some brands whose information may contain some errors as they get their data from simple Google searches. In some infamous cases, companies have paid for scientific studies to promote their products. This highlights the importance of reviewing the source of the information to ensure that there are no interests involved.

3. Manufactured news

One of the biggest problems faced by the recent United States presidential election was the absurd amount of fabricated news generated by both parties. All with alarming and ridiculous headlines similar to those we found in the tabloids of yesteryear. We still don't know how big its effect was on the election results.

These notes use the most sensational headlines possible to provoke people to share them. With each click, a website makes money. So the more alarming the head of the note (or click bait ), the more money the website will receive.

These notes have no journalistic foundation, but sometimes generate more clicks than serious news sites.

How to identify fake news

It may seem difficult, but there are a series of very direct steps that you can follow to identify if a news on Facebook is false and therefore if you should share it:

1. Check your head: Your first sign is an overly alarming, ridiculous, or improbable headline. Sometimes they even have obvious misspellings or grammar. Serious newscasts generally review their texts multiple times before approving them.

2. Analyze the source: Although traditional media such as Televisa, El Universal, CNN, BBC, The New York Times, among others, deserve their dose of criticism, they generally employ trained journalists to review data and corroborate sources before publishing.

It is a good place to start. If the note you are reading comes from a site called DespiertaMéxicoHoyYSiempre.blogspot.com – to give a bad example – then you can assume that it is not a reliable source.

3. Read the note: it sounds obvious, but the false notes have alarmist headlines to cause you to share the link. The best thing you can do before doing it, is to read the note to see if the information is valid, it is signed by an author and if it really has to do with the title.

Check that the data, dates, events and even photographs are consistent with what they say to communicate. Even, check the publication date to avoid sharing an old news.

4. Check other sources: that is, 'google' the note to see if other media bring that information. There is a maxim in journalism that a professor at my communication school tends to say: 'If your mother says she loves you, check it with two sources.'

5. Question: If you know someone who is involved in the subject, do not be afraid to ask them. It is better to know directly if the news is true or a ridiculous exaggeration.

I know that it seems like a very tedious process, but it is necessary to share relevant, useful and conjunctural information. Why do you think measles cases have increased in the United States? Because fake news linking vaccination to autism gained a lot of popularity.

When the information passes these filters, then you can share it. But avoid doing it if you think it may be false, otherwise you can misinform or generate even unnecessary panic.

With information from Martha Elena Violante and John Boitnott.

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