In our world today, it can be very confusing to understand the information we read and see online. For one thing, there is so much of it and secondly, how do you know if it is based on facts, half-truths or is it outright lies? In recent years the use of social media platforms to share things ‘we’ believe to be true (when they might not be) has had an increasingly powerful ripple effect, resulting in influencing others' actions.
During and since the pandemic, there has been a growing trend (and pressure) for brands to interact with their customer. Including speaking up on the social and economic events that are important to their clients. Even as individuals we often find ourselves wanting to comment on or share news stories. But with little time to fact check and perhaps even some naivety in play, it’s unsurprising that many people and even companies have quickly found themselves in hot water.
So, what is misinformation?
‘Fake news’ can come in many variations. The best way to decipher what is false is to understand the intent behind what you are reading.
Misinformation Vs Disinformation.
Disinformation – Information is known to be false or misleading shared with the intent to deceive and cause harm. E.g. Manipulated videos, audio and images, intentionally created conspiracy theories, gossip and rumours.
Managing the truth in communication is not always easy. It can take rigorous fact-checking and attention to detail to make sure no misinformation is spread. Contrary to popular belief, it is very easy to pass on misinformation. But it is important you always check your sources. Maintaining trust is far easier than re-establishing trust after it has been lost.
Ryan Berger, a founding partner of HYPR, articulated this beautifully when speaking at the American Association of Advertising Agencies. “The more you dedicate to this message and surround your message with clean and measured action, the more trusted your brand becomes … therefore you are in a better position to spread the truth”
How to spot Misinformation and Disinformation
It's all about intent. What is the purpose of the item you are reading or viewing? Bear in mind that ‘fake news’ is designed to feed your biases, hopes and fears. Effective false information is designed to be emotive. The sharer wants a reaction from you.
It is important to have a critical mindset when reading/viewing information that you may pass on. There are a couple of things to look out for that can help you spot false information.
1. Where is the information coming from?
Who is the source? Are they reputable?
Many websites, blogs and fake accounts do not fact check and will use emotive language to elicit a reaction from you to boost their viewings. The information they are presenting will often be vague, without sources and they often post very little else apart from their main agenda. This is often propelled by fake accounts whose sole purpose is to share news, show support or spread false information. Sadly, the number of fake accounts is on the rise. Facebook deleted 2 billion fake accounts in the first quarter of 2019 alone.
2. Is the information cross-referenced with trustworthy sources?
Are the mainstream media outlooks covering it? Has an analytical 3rd party covered it?
If the information is trustworthy then reputable news outlets will have likely covered it. Look for sites like BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, etc… these sites make a living on their reputation for fact checks and, whilst they won’t get it right 100 per cent of the time, they will have cross-examined information before publishing it.
3. What is the intention behind the information? What does the user want you to do?
Is the headline designed to generate clicks? Do they want you to share using a specific hashtag?
Many ‘fake news’ articles and videos are generated to increase views, engagement, or reactions. This is to improve the number of people seeing the website or false narrative online. Keep in mind that the information you are reading may be designed to deceive or harm – don’t participate in helping spread it further!
On the flip side, what you are reading might be satire – perhaps poking fun at a celebrity or someone in the public eye. Normally satire is clearly labelled but it can be confusing when the article is designed to fool you.
Can you spot the fake news? Give it a go:
Join the myth-buster
If you spot someone spreading fake stories or suspect they are spreading ‘false information’, report them to the platform you found them on. All social media platforms have a way to report users spreading misinformation.
For more tips and tricks on content making and improving your SEO check out some of our latest blog posts.