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The internet has largely delivered on its promise to revolutionise the way we access information and news in general. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the rise of fake news websites, as people share these stories without question.
It doesn’t have to be this way though, as there are a few things to keep in mind before sharing that article…
Publications live and die by their exclusives of course, but it’s worth Googling the story for other websites saying the same thing. This is especially true for no-name websites reporting the original news, as opposed to the likes of News24, Forbes, M&G and other prominent publications.
Also make sure that these other websites aren’t just rewriting the content from the original publication, but have their own sources verifying the information in question.
Check Snopes and other hoax-busting websites
The most prominent debunking website around, Snopes is devoted to verifying the accuracy of popular stories and tales, giving it a true or false stamp (and everything in between).
It’s not the only website in town, as Hoax Slayer, Hoax Busters and Truth or Fiction are a few other prominent resources. Some of these aren’t really updated often enough, but they’re worth keeping in mind anyway.
Pore over the website
Another no-brainer is to sift through the article’s website for other news stories. For instance, a story that popped up on my newsfeed about Wayde van Niekerk getting a Nike endorsement, also had articles in the sidebar for Usain Bolt being disqualified and Oscar Pistorius being shot in prison. Red flags right there…
It’s also worth checking the website’s information/about pages (or the article page itself) for possible “satire” disclaimers. The article might actually be old rather than fake too, so make a point of checking the date/timestamp.
Check the user comments
Ever since the “letters to the editor” page in newspapers (and most likely before that), readers have been relied upon to offer corrections.
Physical letters might not be as popular anymore, but readers are still there. So check comments on the article or on the social media post for any valuable corrections.
Is that photo real? Use reverse image search
All too often, we’ve seen social media users duped into sharing photoshopped pictures or images without the proper context. Is that packed beach photo really showing Durban as the caption suggests, or is it actually an older photo of Rio? There’s one good way to find out.
Google has a reverse image search function, found by clicking the “images” option from the Google homepage and then choosing the camera icon in the search bar. From here, you can paste the suspect URL or upload the image in question. This will show you where the image appears on the internet, giving you the ability to filter by similarity and more.
There’s also another option available in the form of Tin Eye, which offers the same functionality as well as browser plugins, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you really want to get into the nitty gritty, it might be worth diving into the EXIF data of said photo. There are quite a few browser-based EXIF viewers around, such as metapicz and Jeffrey’s Image Metadata Viewer. You can even find extensions, presenting you with metadata by merely hovering over an image.
Watch the spelling
You’ll also want to check the spelling of the website in question, as some hoax websites try to pose as more established publications. For instance, I stumbled upon one website reporting on the Wayde van Niekerk story, dubbed “theguard1an.com”. Of course, the original publication is theguardian.com.
Another website carrying this story is called “sabbcnews” – trying to pose as SABC News. Or are they trying to pose as BBC News? Ah well…
Do you have more tips? Let us know in the comments!