The term fake news is used to refer to fabricated news, which, up until a few years ago, was blindly shared by people with limited levels of cultural insight, using an extremely efficient mode of communication: the internet.
The current situation however, shows that this trend has developed into a real business. Among the most clamorous examples was when owners of websites with very similar names to those of well-known news publications made huge amounts of money by posting messages on search engines and social networks. The fake content did not only fool untrained users (unaware of the financial gain which each share earned for the portal creators), but also politicians and journalists.
Social networks in particular must shoulder some of the blame for this. When using an external source, many social networks remove any distinctive graphics, making it look the same as all the others. Consequently, users are more likely to make mistakes.
To combat this problem, it is first of all essential to spread more specific awareness and make people realise that fake news is not just a prank, but also one strand of a carefully planned campaign of disinformation designed to profit certain individuals and in some cases, to influence opinions and consumer choices. Some people have suggested that terms like ‘prank’ should no longer be used, in order to avoid this phenomenon being viewed with too much complacency.
How to combat fake news
In order to combat fake news, the first thing is to check the source. If you are in any doubt about registering on one of the national news websites, all you have to do is take a look at the foot of the homepage. There, if the portal belongs to a regulated news publication, you will find information such as the date of its legal registration, tax code and the name of its managing director. It is of course important to read the piece of news and you should be suspicious if you find generalisations or omissions (such as the absence of source details with a clinical study).
An important defence against online fake news is provided by browsers, which offer a useful extension to find out the actual publication date of a photo, thereby making it possible to cross-check information from search engines. If the system reveals that the image was published online before the date of the event mentioned in the news item, it is very likely a case of fake news.
The experts responsible for revealing such cases, known in jargon as debunkers, also suggest you check the source of news when it is provided. If it includes links, it is a good idea to click on them and see where they lead. Very often in fact, the source of the article is a satirical website. In other cases however, it is a reputable news website, the contents of which have been modified in order to alter their meaning.
Another useful tip is to check any quotations which seem exaggerated. In this case, it is sufficient to copy and paste them into search engines to check if they have been provided by authoritative sources. This allows you to find out if it is fake news which has already been identified by sites specialising in debunking false claims.
A similar approach may be adopted with visual content. In many cases, thanks to the help of readers, it was possible to identify fake news because it was found that the photographs published in the newspapers were in fact of people completely un-related to the article contents.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith