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Fake news at election time: watch out for the signs

During the run-up to the regional, federal and European elections to be held on Sunday 26th May, keep a watch out for fake news. Whenever disinformation is spread on a large scale online, it can affect the way people behave when it comes to voting. Which, of course, is exactly what the people spreading this fake news are trying to achieve.

How do you uncover fake news?

Fake news is slanted or false information that is spread mainly via social media on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It is not always easy to recognise fake news, but there are a number of tell-tale signs that you need to watch out for:

  • Check who posted the news item. Anyone can share news on social media. The people who spread fake news often do so using false accounts. So always check to see who is spreading the news. Is it a trustworthy news site (one of the ways of checking is to look at the “About us” section)? Is it a reliable account? For example, on Facebook and Twitter, there’s a blue tick next to the account name of official profiles. If the item of news claims to be from a recognised news site, also check to see whether the web address corresponds with the URL of the official site.
  • Cross-check the news item with a news source that you trust. For example, a news item may be popular on Facebook, but is it also featured on other media sites? Check it out on trustworthy newspaper or media websites. Also check that the information actually corresponds between the sites.
  • Check the original source. If the news item refers to another source, for example a survey on which the news is based, find the original source using a search engine to see whether the information is actually genuine.
  • Check where the images come from. Photos and videos can easily be edited or taken out of context. Right-click on the photo in the news item and select “Find illustration in Google”. If you find the picture under a totally different story, then something doesn’t add up.
  • Watch out for the tone used. A news report that seems to be aimed at creating unrest takes advantage of emotions and if it seems to be too good to be true, then it is often suspicious. And check to see that the headline corresponds with the rest of the story. If it doesn’t, then it’s highly likely to be fake news.
  • Don’t click on things too quickly. Always remember that social media algorithms are designed to display information to you that are closest to the things you are interested in. This means that if you click or respond to a fake news report, then these algorithms will see to it that the next news you see will be along the same lines. Over time, this can affect your views and the way you see things.
  • Think before you share. Don’t share messages thoughtlessly on social media before you are sure that the information you are sharing is actually true. So, carry out the checks detailed above before you help spread a news item even further.
  • Report abuse. Social networks themselves are also taking measures to fight against fake news. For example, as a result of the European elections, Facebook has set up a separate crisis unit to deal with the issue. But did you know that you can also help fight the dissemination of fake news yourself? In particular, you can report inappropriate posts, photos or tweets on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using the menu button (one arrow or three dots) shown at top right of each post.