How You Can Spot, Flag, and Stop Fake News from Spreading

Opinion28.01.2017
man looking at smartphone

If you are on any social media platform, you probably have a sense of how quick platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are at pushing content onto your newsfeed. While the content that does show up on your newsfeed has been fine-tuned by sometimes mindboggling (think cats) algorithms, it goes without saying that part of your newsfeed is made up of, well, “news”. Today these “news” come in different shapes and forms, from thousands of possible sources, and range from fairly objective to highly sensationalized. We can celebrate the fact that social media is a symbol of free speech and offers a unique platform for us to voice our opinions, ideas, criticisms, etc. However, what would a democratic society be without individual responsibility, even when considering freedom of expression. Moreover, in a democracy, reasoned debate is a key element of the political process. Social media has, to some extent, made it easier to spread lies, because often those responsible can either not be identified or they do not reside in the same country, so libel laws cannot be used. Social media also increases the tendency to listen only to people with one’s own views and avoid having once opinions challenged, again undermining the necessary public debate.  In light of the recent political dramas happening around the world, a wave of protests have risen against giant social media platforms like Facebook to deal with the spreading of “fake news”.  While this of course forces news agencies and tech companies to tackle the issue in a more strategic way, there are things that netizens can do to stop fake news from spreading.

Spotting Fake News

Of course, to stop fake news from spreading one has to be able to spot it first. With click bait headlines, the reality of some of the weirdness that actually does exist in political and business realms, and media outlets competing for your attention, sometimes this step is the hardest. For starters, try this fun simple test created by The Guardian and test your ability to spot fake news. While some of the headlines seem outlandish enough for audiences to identify as fake, some do appear harder to distinguish. Therefore, following “trustworthy” news sources to begin with or to double-check the story with more reputable news sources is important. If you’re a click-bait victim and are already in the site of the fake news story, trying scanning other headlines presented on the site. Are there news stories about a new continent popping up in the middle of Pacific Ocean or ads that promise you millions of dollars with just a click?

Flagging Fake News

Simply type in “reporting fake news” in Google and you will see the first two suggestions being “reporting fake news on Facebook” followed by “reporting fake news on Twitter”.  Since these platforms offer the fastest ways for any news to spread, fake news is no exception. However, with the many mysterious features of Facebook that remain undiscovered by some of its users, there is a way for users to flag and report fake news. For every post that you see, on the top right hand corner is a “V” scroll down button. The first option users have is to “Report Post”. Previously this feature only had three reasons users could choose from to explain why they were reporting the post, with “fake news” only appearing as a secondary option depending on which of the three you clicked on first. Today however, once users click on “Report Post”, “It’s a Fake News Story” is now the third option in the list of reasons for reporting the post. This makes reporting fake news less of a hassle for users and if the news story is actually fake and a lot of users are reporting it, it enables Facebook to act more quickly. We should also protest to our friends when they share dubious or fake news.

Stopping Fake News

While it is close to impossible for a single netizen to stop fake news from spreading online or on social media platforms, netizens can go beyond flagging fake news to informing, educating, and providing alternatives to their fellow users. It goes without saying that with political news stories, a lot of emotional rants and exchanges can make it off putting for some to stop fake news from spreading. Thanks to netizens who are concerned about the spreading of fake news, there now exist sites and lists that identify fake news sites for Internet users. One such site is Fake News Watch. The creators behind the site update it regularly and netizens can share the list and the site on their social media platforms, helping spread the word.

While we should continue supporting free speech and freedom of expression on social media platforms, it is also our responsibility to ensure that information and news is as factual, and verifiable as possible. The Internet and online media has given a great portion of our global population the ability to engage in important political and social debates that impact our lives on a daily basis. This should grow and be more accessible to societies that have yet to have access to such platforms. However, it is also possible to have these discussions, debates, and intellectual disputes based on actual facts and sound analysis as opposed to “alternative facts” and misinformation. It is better that we as netizens get active on this, rather than giving governments an excuse for increased censorship.