Fact Check Before You Share: How to Spot Fake News 

Fake news can have repercussions. Share responsibly.

Swachh Digital India
4 min read
If you want to avoid falling for fake news stories, here’s a handy list to keep around. (Photo: iStock)
The Quint

No, the new Rs 2,000 note didn’t have a GPS chip in it. No, UNESCO didn’t declare our national anthem the best in the world. That’s not even what UNESCO does as an organisation! No, there wasn’t a salt shortage in India in 2016.

And while these seem like harmless forwards that don’t matter, that last piece of information led to the death of a woman in Kanpur when it triggered panic among the people.

All the above were fake news stories that got traction on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Yup, the same term that Donald Trump uses constantly in his tweets. And you may have fallen for them yourself. Or maybe you know somebody who did.

The freedom of the Internet makes it the perfect place for false information to thrive. But don’t lose hope. The same freedom also allows it to be the biggest repository in the history of humanity of true, well-researched information.

So, what can you do to fact check what you’re reading or receiving? Here’s a handy list to keep around.

1. Using WhatsApp? Use Your Browser Too

So, you’re receiving forwards on your family and school groups on WhatsApp and don’t know how much of it is true? If you’ve got WhatsApp, then you’re probably using a smartphone and the Internet, which means you can Google anything that’s sent to you. Before forwarding a message on, fact check it so you don’t get caught in the fake news cycle.

2. Google is a Fact Checker’s Best Friend

When in doubt, use a search engine like Google or Bing. Look for other reliable sources that are reporting the same story. If you don’t see anybody else carrying it, don’t believe it. Simple.

You can also search the author’s name to see what other work they’ve done so that if there happens to be an ideological bias, you can adjust for it.

3. Check the Source and the URL

When you read something online, check who published it. News publishers that have been around a long time and have a good reputation can be trusted. But if you’ve never heard of the publisher before or know that they’ve put out dubious information in the past, ignore it.

Don’t just rely on the publisher. Also check out the sources the article mentions and see how credible they are and whether they validate the article’s claims.

Also check the URL of the website. While you may think you’re on BBC, The Quint, The Guardian or The Times of India, a little addition at the end of the ‘.com’ like a ‘.co’ or ‘.in’ changes the destination page entirely. www.bbchindi.in isn’t the BBC Hindi website.

4. Check the Date!

Once something is out on the World Wide Web, it lives forever. This applies to news articles as well. Thankfully, all credible news sources have a date of publishing. Check this before sharing anything. Old articles, especially about constantly changing stories like the fight against terror or economic development, often have no relevance to the current context.

5. Are You Sure it’s Not Satire?

Websites like Faking News and The Onion publish articles that are openly satirical. They’re not based in actual facts though they may be written with a focus on a specific news development. Always make sure that the source of your news isn’t a satire website.

6. Check the ‘About’ Page

Which brings us to the next point. Every credible publication will have an ‘About’ page. Read it. Aside from telling you whether the publisher is credible, it’ll also give you context about who runs the organisation and once you know that, it’s a simple matter of adjusting for bias.

7. Your Own Response to the News

This part may seem like an unlikely way to figure out whether news is fake but bear with us. Check if your own response to the news you’re reading is strong – like anger or elation or sadness. If it is, then definitely Google it to fact check. Fake news feeds on extreme reactions to facilitate its spread. After all, you’ll only share something if you feel strongly about it.

8. Read Beyond the Headline

If you see many grammatical and spelling errors as well as poor quality images, then definitely do a fact check. Websites that peddle fake news do it to make money from Google ads so they’re not looking to improve the quality of their site.

Also, see what the content of the article says. If there are contradictions within the story or if it tries to use facts that are clearly false, unbelievable or have been debunked before, it’s probably not credible.

At the end of the day, all news in the digital space depends on you – the audience – to share it further on your social media accounts and your chats. But if you share information that’s false, it can have repercussions. Share responsibly.

(This article is part of a series done in co-production between The Quint and BBC Hindi called Swachh Digital India. Also read this article in Hindi on Quint Hindi here and on BBC Hindi here. Read more articles from Swachh Digital India here.)

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