Here's how you can spot and ignore fake news online

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

We live in a post-truth world and it is chock-full of fake news. You might have seen the term floating around on the Internet, read about how Facebook is trying to counter its spread, and even experienced it - remember that WhatsApp hoax about Baba Ramdev's death on a highway that went viral? Or the video clip of author Arundhati Roy - uploaded on a fake news website - where she is allegedly speaking about the tension in Kashmir, which several, including MP Paresh Rawal, believed to be true? But how do you separate the news from the chaff? mid-day lets you in on the canard of fake news and what you can do to spot and ignore it.

What is fake news?
Donald Trump calls every story he doesn't like 'fake news'. But is that the identifying qualifier for fake news? No; simply put, fake news is spreading incorrect information as a fact and a happening. Broadly, fake news is manufactured lies, with exaggerated and manipulated facts that are spread by tapping into extreme opinions, running on passionate beliefs held by people. However, websites like The Onion and Faking News are not to be confused for fake news as they are purely satirical. Fake news websites, on the other hand, aren't satirical.

Pizzagate
The conspiracy theory is about former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running a child sex racket in a pizzeria. It began in September 2016 on online forums such as 4Chan and Reddit. One spirited believer stormed into the pizzeria with a rifle for a 'closer look' at the alleged happenings.

Nope endorsement
A website called WTOE 5 originally published this story, which was later picked up by a famous fake news site 'Ending the Fed,' claiming Pope Francis had endorsed then US Presidential candidate Donald Trump. However, Pope Francis had said in October 2016 he does not speak about electoral campaigns.

Chip on Rs 2k note
Even before the Prime Minister announced the arrival of the new Rs 2,000 note in his demonetisation speech last November, rumors were abound about the new notes being embedded with a nano-chip, which can be tracked even when it is 120 meters underground and is 'black money-proof'. The Reserve Bank of India dismissed this as 'figments of imagination' and said that such a technology does not exist anywhere in the world, and surely not in the new notes.

Outraging over Roy
Lok Sabha MP Paresh Rawal tweeted a link from a FB page called 'The Nationalist', which said, '70 lakh Indian Army cannot defeat Azadi gang in Kashmir: Arundhati Roy gives statement to Pakistani newspaper!' He said, 'Instead of tying stone pelter on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy!' The piece was first published on fake news website 'postcard.news'. Roy later clarified to 'The Wire' that the story is 'crap' and she hadn't visited Srinagar recently or given any statement on Kashmir.

Fake news slayers


Australia-based Brett Christensen has been running the site hoax-slayer.net since 2003

Online hoaxes now include all of social media and have earned the moniker of fake news. How dangerous is this shift? 
One of the most dangerous aspects of this shift is that a social media-driven hoax can spread more rapidly and reach a great many more people than an older, email-driven hoax...via social media, a hoax can spread across the world in hours rather than days. 

How should people be better informed media consumers?
If people just got into the habit of verifying information before they shared it, fake news would become a trickle rather than a flood. I think it is also important that people try to look past their own political or religious bias when analysing a message.


Ahmedabad-based software engineer Pratik Sinha is founder of altnews.in, an anti-propaganda site

How vicious and real can fake news get when steered by propaganda?
We already saw with the Jharkhand [lynching] incident what fake news can do. It can end up in people getting killed. As for the Arundhati Roy incident, when the MP tweeted that [fake news] article, it reached a lot of people and validated it.

What can the public do to hold parliamentary representatives, or the govt as a whole, account-able if they spread fake news?
The only thing one can do is raise their voice on social media, and document these instances on websites. If these instances are documented, it rattles them.


City businessman Pankaj Jain started smhoaxslayer.com, which mainly busts WhatsApp hoaxes

What do you think about India's growing fake news menace?
It is a menace that has spread vastly over the past one year. WhatsApp used to be a space where people shared jokes, but now, they share fake news.

What should be done to curtail the spread of fake news?
People should take it upon themselves to not circulate fake news. If a newspaper is giving out information, it can be trusted, because it is coming from a trusted news source. WhatsApp is, ultimately, just a platform, like other social media sites.

Don't fall for the click bait
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions made this handy guide to spot fake news.

Consider the source
Click away from the story to see the site, its mission and contact info.

Read beyond
Headlines can be outrageous for getting clicks. What's the whole story?

Check the author
Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?

Supporting sources
Click on links within the story to see if its sources support it.

Check the date
Reposting old stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.

Is it a joke?
If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.

Check your biases
Consider if your own beliefs could be affecting your judgement.

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