By: Thom Dixon
Fake news is a term bandied about by many, but do you know how to spot it?
Fake news, or disinformation, is content created to intentionally mislead, persuade, influence and deceive. It borrows heavily on propaganda methods pioneered during World War II and the Cold War.
These methods involved spreading factually incorrect rumours to bring down political leaders, foment coups, lower population morale and influence an opponent’s military strategy. Fake news is just one page out of the manual on information warfare.
This election the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is running a communications campaign focused on disinformation, and provides tips on what to consider when evaluating whether a source is being truthful or not. Though the AEC is pushing this campaign strongly though online channels, they have no ability to police these disinformation campaigns (here we call it disinformation because calling it information helps legitimise fake news).
So spotting fake news is up to you, and below are some tips to help you do it.
1. Read past the headline
In a world of streams, swipes and a limited attention span, it is easy to read a catchy headline, hit share and move on. Just because the headline is compelling, doesn’t make it true. If you’re thinking of sharing a post, make sure you can vouch for its authenticity, and that what it claims checks out as true.
2. What is the source?
The AEC’s campaign focuses on the source. Is the information you are viewing linked to a reputable source? Does the source follow journalism ethics and have mechanisms of accountability? If the source is trusted, is the post actually from the claimed source? Fake news relies on you clicking share, and through this it gains legitimacy as a source.
3. Confirmation bias
If the information too easily confirms something you already believe, then be circumspect and critical. High quality information will attempt some level of objectivity, which means telling more than one side of the story. If the information you’re reading only tells the side of the story you already believe, then question its authenticity and hold off hitting share.
4. Are other news outlets reporting the story?
The easiest way to check the truth of a story is to see if other news outlets are reporting it. If you’ve stumbled upon Watergate, chances are the mainstream media knows the thread is out there, and if they’re not reporting it, then you have to wonder why.
5. Think before you share
My golden rule: I only share posts I wish I had written.
Before you share something this election, think about whether the information meets your own standards of quality if you were to write it.
Fake news operates like a virus. And, unfortunately there is no organisation in Australia responsible for policing it.
The best advice we can give you is to be alert to the messages that are attempting to influence your vote this election. It comes in many forms, such as through articles and videos that may appear on your Facebook Newsfeed and more. You should be aware that what you’re seeing may not be true, and that you should verify this information before you share.
Fake news has been spotted in the 2016 US presidential election, the Brexit Vote, the Australian marriage equality postal survey, and every recent democratic election around the world. It exists, and it is used ‘propaganda style’ to get your vote.
If you’re interested in doing some further reading, here are a few links:
The BBC’s The Truth About Fake News