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Finding the Fact From the Fake: Spotting Fake News Online

With more and more people across the world turning to digital platforms for work, education, and socialising the risks associated with the internet become more prevalent. One such risk is the exposure to false information online, or in more common terms; fake news. 

Fake news isn't something new, unfortunately, it's been around for a number of years now, but in many cases, it's becoming harder to distinguish what is reliable information from what is not. There are 4 main types of fake news it's worth being aware of:

  1. Made up stories that are made to joke about news or people in the media - they're not designed to be taken seriously. These are known as Satire.
  2. Clickbait is when you see eye-catching or misleading headlines. You click through to read the full article and find that what you're seeing wasn't what you were advertised. This is often used to make money through site visits or advertising. 
  3. False information with an agenda behind it (often political). This can be known as propaganda
  4. Mistakes. Sometimes, we do just get things wrong by accident. A trusted site or writer will always own up to mistakes and make corrections. 

We can describe fake news stories as attempts to either misinform the public (through deliberately or accidentally putting false information online) or disinform the public (though intentionally spreading false information). 

How can help our children (and ourselves!) to spot fake news?

  • Think about what the writer is trying to say. Does it seem like a joke or does it feel like an advertisement? Try to do some research to see if you can find the same information elsewhere. 
  • Are there links in the story to help determine it's truth? If not, it might just be someone's opinion. 
  • Check the website for spelling mistakes and errors - and the article itself! Does the web address have a URL you recognise ('.com', '.co.uk', '.org', '.net', '.gov', '.edu')?
  • Check the date of the story and ask yourself, did it happen a long time ago? what time of day was this published? If late in the night, would a credible source do that?

Photographs are often manipulated online to show misleading information as well. This might be through cropping parts of the image away, using filters to appear different, forced perspectives, or through some serious photoshopping. This can be particularly damaging to our health and wellbeing, if we are exposed to lots of photoshopped images of people online, pretending they naturally look that way. 

Whilst we've seen a rise in influencers start to show 'Instagram vs Real' type posts where they pose for one photo then relax for the next, there are still a lot of manipulated images out there. If you or your child follows accounts on social media that use a lot of image manipulation, it's likely that the algorithms behind it will suggest similar accounts for you to look at too. 

How can I tell if an image is manipulated?

  • Check the photo for photoshopping by looking for missing shadows, reflections in windows or glass, or look for straight edges of walls, tables, or furniture being pixelated or curved
  • Check the location of the image - are there any tell-tale signs that they aren't where they say they are? 
  • Try to stay on top of common filters used on social platforms - and if using them for personal use have a bit of fun with them! It'll help you to see what filters are out there. 
  • Check out the skin on the person in the photo  - is their face perfectly smooth and pore-free, yet their neck chest, and arms not?
  • Do body proportions make sense? Often when people manipulate their waist size, for example, their elbows or arms stretch lightly larger. 

Don't despair though - it's not all doom and gloom online! There are lots of brilliant, reputable news sources available, as well as really body-positive social media accounts designed to show that honesty is the best policy. 

Want to know more about Fake news? BBC Bitesize has some great resources for famillies, including some quizzes designed to help you figure out what's real and what's not. We have also got some great Online Safety resources available on our academy websites in the Safeguarding section. 

Hannah Skinner