What is fake news and how to stop the spread of misinformation?

The term “fake news” has been used extensively by the news media, in social media, and general discussions. In political contexts, calling something “fake news” is done to distract or discredit officials and to help spread misinformation.

With so much free information online it’s easy to get distracted by all the false materials polluting the web. Authoritative resources that were once considered official, have been overrun by online platforms intentionally created to share and spread low quality, false information.

What are the different types of false information?

False information can be categorized in three ways:

  • Misinformation is the spread of false or mistaken information that wasn’t necessarily created to harm you. By sharing and spreading information that is incorrect you make it credible.
  • Fake News lies or fabricated information/news that is non-verifiable through sources, facts or quotes. This includes: hoaxes, conspiracy theories, fake websites, clickbait pages posing as legitimate websites, memes, Youtube channels posing as official channels, and “zombie claims” (photos or posts that have been manipulated or edited to look real that keep popping up all over social media). 
  • Disinformation is information that was created to deceive, lie or support either individual or a social/political group’s agenda. It's biased information like propaganda used for “brainwashing” created with the intent to harm you.

Mis- and disinformation is designed to trigger a reaction (emotional response) and to gain an action (share content). It’s easy to spread misinformation without even thinking about it when something triggers strong feelings in us.

How do I know what information is real? 

Always check the source or “author” of the content you are viewing. A reliable and reputable source:

  • provides in-depth, evidence-based information that is authoritative 
  • is unbiased and offers a balanced approach
  • is well known and has built a reputation of being trustworthy over time

Examples of reliable sources are: 

  • established media - printed/digital news, magazines, or television 
  • peer-reviewed articles or “scholarly journals” (articles written by an expert and reviewed by a group of experts)
  • government or publicly funded organization reports, fact-sheets or multi-media 
  • academic research papers and databases
  • books and libraries. 

Trustworthy organizations pay teams of dedicated staff to research, investigate and validate facts to ensure the information being published is legitimate and true.

Avoid Spreading Misinformation

Stop! And fact-check before you share. Practice evaluation skills and develop a critical mindset. Ask yourself: Why was this information created and what is its goal?

Don’t just look at what a web page tells you about themselves. Instead, do a web search and find out what others are saying about them. This will help you determine the accuracy of the information. 

Look for:

  • Authority - who is the author and where did the item originate? Check on the individual, company or institution, to see where their biases (personal inclinations/favouritisms) are. Is the author’s name listed? What are their credentials that make them an expert in the topic?
  • Accuracy - information that is accurate and free from errors is considered more reliable. One or two typos are ok but information that is presented in a sloppy manner with too many spelling or grammatical mistakes comes across as unprofessional. Are there links to other resources to back up the claims one source is making? For statistical references and data check where they come from. Numbers can be easily changed and manipulated to show personal opinions. Fact and opinion are different.
  • Objectivity - check to see if the information is presented with the least amount of prejudice or personal bias. Is it an opinion or is it trying to sell you something?  
  • Timeliness - when was the information first published? Is the content you are looking at up-to-date, or the website updated regularly, or is it something that is old made to look like new information? 

Fact-Checking Resources and Tools

Web Search and Wikipedia

Start your research journey with a web search to see what others are saying and follow it with a Wikipedia search. Although Wikipedia is self-regulated - meaning anyone can edit another person’s entries and comments on the site - it’s generally a good place to start to gather information on any given topic.  

Verify Images

Find out if an image has been used many times already by doing a reverse image check. You can upload or drag and drop pictures in sites like Google ImagesYandex, and TinyEye.

CIVIX

CTRL-F is the keyboard shortcut command to “find” information, it's also the name of a program offered through the CIVIX news literacy site. The site was created by a the Government of Canada and it's a collection of videos, tutorials  and resources that teaches you quick strategies to investigate information.

Video produced by: CTRL-F

Verifiably

The Verifiably App was created by an ex-senior online political journalist at the CBC, Susana Mas, who also has been working with the immigration and refugee sector to teach about misinformation. Sign up to get texts on your phone of verified information about COVID-19 as well as tips on how to spot false information in different languages (French, Spanish and English).

Snopes

Snopes.com is an evidence-based source for fact checking that offers resources to encourage readers to do their own fact checking. They look at urban myths, hoaxes and conspiracies, rumors, and general misinformation.

Last updated: February 19, 2021 4006470