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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

A guide to spotting ‘fake news’ online

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Right-wing billionaire and US president Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of 'fake news'. Photo AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File
Right-wing billionaire and US president Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of ‘fake news’. Photo AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

With more than one billion websites online, the internet is a veritable treasure trove of information – but the old saying ‘don’t believe everything you read’ is now more appropriate than ever.
Developed based on the 1962 ‘Galactic Network’ concept, before the internet went ‘mainstream’ and was available to the general public, the ARPANET as it was known was used for research and military communications.

The internet as we know it today was invented in March 1989, by British Physicist Tim Berners-Lee, who introduced the first web server, browser and editor.

On August 6, 1991, Mr Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website info.cern.ch and in April 1993, world wide web technology was made available to the public domain on a royalty free basis, allowing it to grow exponentially.

This has led to a plethora of websites online today that contain advertising and/or deliberately misleading and false information – some strictly designed as satirical news.

While newspapers may resort to news satire on April Fools Day, websites including www.theonion.com , www.theshovel.com.au , www.betootaadvocate.com and www.theunaustralian.net derive their income from satirical news.

The worldwide growth of satirical news and politics websites and TV shows even led internet giants Facebook and Google to announce in 2016 they would be cracking down on fake news sites, as they were impacting advertising revenue.

Since the mid 1990’s the website www.snopes.com has been known as a reliable online source for information debunking fake news or urban myths.

Another easy way to spot paid websites that may not accurately match an online search is to look for ‘sponsored content’ or ad next to the list of website addresses.

Companies pay a premium for their website to appear at the top of a google search as users are known to click first on one of the websites at the top of the first page.

Just because it appears on your social media feed doesn’t mean it’s genuine.

And with people spending more and more time online, fake news has the ability to shape perceptions, thoughts and actions, especially of children and teenagers.

Research published in 2016 by Stanford University found that children focused more on the content of social media posts than their sources.

As part of the report, 203 middle school students were surveyed and 80% thought an advertisement labelled ‘sponsored content’ on a news website was a real news story.

The majority of high school students interviewed by researchers didn’t recognised and explain the significance of the blue checkmark on a verified Fox News Facebook account.

To assist users, Facebook now has a ‘Tips to spot false news’ page in its help centre.

Tips to spot fake news –

What is the source – look at the website address and any associated email addresses to see if they are genuine. Spelling and grammatical errors are giveaways. Fake news or satirical sites don’t go too far to hide what is obvious to the educated. Some websites will even declare, once a user navigates away from the homepage, the content is fake or satire.

Get past the headline – reading beyond the headline often identifies fake or satirical news. Like a fake misspelled web domain name, fake or satirical news can even be as obvious as being in the headline. Otherwise, the first paragraph of text usually gives the story away as being fake.

Who is the author – often, fake news stories can be identified in the byline by the author’s name. If the authors name seems genuine, do they have a profile picture that seems questionable. A quick search online by the authors name can help weed out fakes that have been identified.

What is referenced – by reading the first few paragraphs of a story a reader can determine if the source of the information is credible. If a search online proves the source doesn’t back up what is claimed in the story it’s fake.

When was it written – checking the date of every story is a quick and easy way to identify fakes, or old stories. News stories always have the date, and sometimes the time published on a website. Websites often have the date they were last updated at the bottom of the homepage.

Beware of bias – all articles on some websites are biased, that’s the way they are written and what is intended by the author and the website. A quick skim read of other stories on the website should enable the reader to identify biased sites.

The big four – if all else fails you can consult the experts involved in the four most credible debunking websites www.factcheck.org , www.snopes.com , www.washingtonpost.com and www.politifact.com who have probably fact checked the latest viral article to appear in your news feed.

For a list of known fake news websites – http://www.snopes.com/2016/01/14/fake-news-sites/

sources – www.internetsociety.org


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