How Can Your Teen Identify Fake News In Social Media

Our youngsters are often misled by outrageous WhatsApp forwards, fake videos and dubious websites, and they fail to sift fact from fiction. Here’s how you can help your teen reject fake news

By Sahana Charan

How Can Your Teen Identify Fake News In Social Media

Fake news and rumours on social media platforms have the power to mislead and play on people's emotions much more than real news. The recent lynchings of innocent people in different parts of India, following fake reports of child lifting circulated on the instant messaging service WhatsApp, is a classic example of the adverse impact such explosive messages can have. The Government of India has issued a warning to WhatsApp over these provocative messages and said that the platform needs to take steps to prevent circulation of such rumours.            

A few months ago, video clips of police seizing Rs. 120 crore from a political party worker in Karnataka, of a lady being beaten up by members of a community in Kerala and many such reports have been debunked as fake. 

How much fake news has penetrated our lives is proven by a study done by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and published in the journal Science. Data scientists, who investigated around 1, 26,000 verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017 by about three million people, found fake news penetrated much more than real news.

What is Fake News?

Fake news means false reports and misinformation spread to influence people and their emotions. It could be WhatsApp forwards, unverified news on dubious websites, fake videos, photoshopped pictures and so on. Lately, there is a lot of buzz around fake news as many social media players have had to face the heat from governments for allowing such reports on their platform. 

Why do people spread fake news? It could be for various reasons – for furthering their own religious and political interests, to influence citizens’ opinions or sometimes just for fun.

Most teenagers get their dose of news from the Internet, more so from social media. Our children must be aware of current affairs, but they must also keep their eyes open to fake news, since teens are at an age when they form biased opinions about people or organisations, based on what they see and hear. Parents need to be alert to the news that their children read online. Ask them where they get their knowledge of current affairs from, discuss news with them and keep them informed about credible sources of information.

“One rule to always keep in mind when it comes to fake news – if it is too good or too outrageous to be true, then it is most often false. It is better to do a Google search on sensational news circulated on social media, especially those that have an intention to manipulate religious and political sentiments. There are many fact-checking websites these days, where you can verify such reports,” says Tinu Cherian, a Bangalore-based social media expert who has close to four lakh followers on Twitter.

Here is what your teen should look out for to identify fake news:

1. Too far from reality: Is the report or video making claims that sound too outrageous or far from the truth? Does a website make regular allegations against a particular community or political party, which sound too far-fetched? Immediately do a Google check on such news. Verify bizarre photographs that seem to sensationalise an event or happening, or talk about sensational cures and remedies.

2. The absence of a source  Credible news stories will mention the author, source of the news and authentic quotes from experts/individuals verifying the report. If you do not find all these elements, then it raises a red flag for checking if it is true or false.

3. Unusual website names and URLs –The URL is the address of the site which you see in the taskbar. If the site address ends with an unknown or unusual ending, and does not have the regular .com, .org or .in attached to it, then it may be dubious. Time for a fact check.

4. Low quality and glaring errors – Authentic news websites undergo strict quality checks and rarely have obvious errors or mistakes. Dubious websites or vague WhatsApp forwards that you receive on your smartphone may not bother so much about quality. So look out for glaring errors in headlines, careless grammatical and spelling mistakes, and mismatched photos.

5. Emotional element – Since the objective of fake news is to sensationalise and manipulate, the headline will try to play on the reader’s emotions. Credible news reports are rarely biased and have a neutral stand. But dubious claims try to outrage and manipulate. 

“Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.” – MIT study.      

Here are some fact-checking websites that verify fake news:

  1. Alt News.in – This is an Indian website that debunks hundreds of fake news from social media
  2. FactCheck.Org – An award-winning website that does a fact check of news on social media, especially political news and government policies in the United States.
  3. Snopes.com – This is one of the oldest websites that has been exposing fake news on a regular basis.
  4. PolitiFact.com – This site mostly checks on claims made by political parties during campaigns, TV Ads, speeches, debates about government policies and so on.
  5. HoaxSlayer.com – This website is a good reference point to get information on spams, internet scams and email hoaxes.

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