Fighting fake news: How to tell fact from fake

Today, the words "fake news" naturally lead you to think of quotes by President Donald Trump. The president has been at war with news outlets, accusing any negative comment about him and his campaign of being "fake news". He famously tweeted: "FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn't tell the truth. A great danger to our country."

Regardless of political opinion, if there's one thing Trump's got right in his head at least, it's the definition of fake news. Fake news is deliberately published hoaxes and disinformation that seeks to spread a certain ideology, or to boost popularity on media.

They are designed to mislead and snag profits from readers' gullibility – And it is dangerous. Hoaxes, such as crime stories, create tension and potential harm, and drama where there is none. It can elevate individuals to unjustified success; it can reputations beyond repair.

It's also incredibly prevalent and difficult to discern. 14 percent of adults admitted to sharing a questionable political news story in the U.S. in 2016, amounting to millions of damaging stories floating around the cyber sphere.

The solution: education and vigilance. We may not be able to completely eradicate false stories, but there is plenty that can be done to minimize this risk – and avoid the embarrassment of telling our friends an incorrect story. It begins with us. We have written a story about how to educate ourselves from spreading fake news, this piece is sort of a reminder.

How to spot fake news

The rise of fake news means more homework for us readers – but it's necessary. If we are to ensure what we're reading is legitimate, good reading habits are essential to make sure we're reading the good stuff and not fluff.

Cross referencing with other sources

A good rule of thumb: verify stories with two other credible sources. The more publications are saying the same thing – each with their own research and sources – the more likely it is that a story is true. While it doesn't completely eliminate the possibility of all outlets being cheated, you can bet it's a good start.

And with Google around, finding other similar stories is a search bar away.

Fact checking for details

Statistics drive news. It's the crux of a story that gives it weight and scale in the real world. You may not be too concerned about a robbery until you realise how much was stolen, or concerned about the economy until you realise the percentage in which it has dropped.

The danger is, these numbers are too easy to manipulate, and most readers don't bother looking up sources and databases.

Turns out, it's actually pretty easy to verify statistics. Government sites are a good source for national statistics in all sorts of departments; is great for political news; and the CIA database is a safe bet for information on general information on other countries – yes, it's all public!

Read deeper into the story

When juicy headlines pop up, it's often easy to react first and tell your friends about it, despite only reading the headline and a paragraph or two. We miss out bigger details that are crucial to making sure the story is credible; worse still, we miss other details and get our facts wrong, creating more fake news.

It's a useful habit to take a minute more to get the full picture, and not leap too quickly to conclusions.

Look up the author

This is where your skill in stalking people on social media comes in handy. If your news comes from a source that isn't well-known, look up the writer.

For starters, make sure he's real – it's immediately fishy if he doesn't seem to exist. Has he written any other works that seem credible? Look out for old columns and publications he's written for and you can come to a safer conclusion.

How to stop fake news

Facebook and Google have employed countless moderators and are brainstorming all sorts of ideas to restrict the spread of fake news. But with so few of them and so many of us users, there's only so much they can do.

The onus is on us to do our fair share of policing and making sure we don't contribute to fake news ourselves.

Stop before you share

We love being the source of knowledge, and one way to impress others is by reposting viral news and looking well-informed. But take a moment before you hit send to run through the steps to spot fake news. You'll be doing your list of followers a big favour – and perhaps spare them some shock.

Call them out

One way to get on the attack is to flag news sources that are blatantly spreading false reports. With more users notifying the authorities, it gets them on their tail and helps with the efficiency of policing of our social media platforms. You're doing them a great service.