Being online can sometimes feel like you're in a crowded marketplace. So much noise, distractions and stall holders yelling out to you to visit their stall. It’s much the same online, but with dramatic headlines, intriguing images and ads competing for your attention. But in the race to catch your eye, not everyone feels like they have to tell you the truth.
In addition to the factual and informative news we see online, there is fake news. It’s nothing new. Throughout history, there has always been wrong information, propaganda and made-up stories, but now fakes news can spread so much faster and wider thanks to the internet and social media sites.
To help you sort fact from fiction, we take a look at what fake news is, examine how it spreads online and provide tips on how to spot a fake news story.
Fake news is false news stories that are designed to influence how you think, act or vote. There are different types of fake news and they include:
Satire - news that’s made up and meant to be taken as a joke, but can be misleading when it’s shared by people who don’t understand its comical nature, or it’s taken out of context. The Betoota Advocate is a great example of an Australian satirical news site.
False attention-grabbing headlines - designed to get you to click on them and, when you do, it takes you to an article that’s unrelated to the headline. This is known as ‘clickbait’. Typical examples of clickbait headlines include, ‘You won’t believe what Olivia Newton-John looks like now!’, or ‘This woman made $550,000 working from home – find out how!’
Disinformation – false or inaccurate information deliberately created to deceive people and support a certain point of view. This type of fake news can often use videos and pictures that have been manipulated in some way.
There is a difference between deliberately misleading information and genuine mistakes. Honest reporting mistakes can happen and be corrected, however stories that contain false information to support a certain point of view can be damaging when shared online.
How does fake news spread?
Did you hear the stories about the climate strike protesters in Sydney who left behind a whole lot of rubbish, or that coronavirus is a biological weapon released by the US? These are fake news stories that spread very quickly online, or ‘went viral’.
Social media has become a source of news for some people. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to share fake news. Just by clicking on ‘share’ or ‘like’, a story or image can reach a lot of people and become popular in a matter of hours.
People are also more likely to share stories that confirm what they already think. And in times of crisis, fake news spreads more quickly as it can play on our fears and anxieties.
Example of fake news. This Facebook post claimed rubbish was left behind by Sydney protesters, however it later emerged this picture was taken at an unrelated event in Hyde Park, London.
How to spot fake news
Check the source. Are they a reputable news organisation, a satirical site, or maybe a Facebook group? Consider how you found the article too. Read with caution if you found the article on a social media site.
Check the web address of the news site. Some fake news sites use a similar web address to authentic news websites. For example, abcnews.com.co is a fake news site that tries to mimic the real ABC news site, abc.net.au.
Check the author. Who wrote the piece? Are they credible? Do they have an agenda? Do a search to see whether they have written anything else and whether it’s been published by reputable news organisations.
Check for evidence. Is the story based on fact or opinion? Who are the author’s sources? A lack of evidence can mean it’s a fake story.
What can you do?
Don’t let fake news stop you from enjoying the information you read online. Being aware that fake news exists is a step towards staying savvy online. Get your news from trustworthy news sites. Question what you read, and if you do read an article that you’re not sure about, there are fact-checking web sites you can visit that are designed to help you sort fact from fiction, such as RMIT University and ABC’s Fact Check, and Snopes.