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How to spot fake news

Person in a sweater on a laptop with a news title %22Fake News%22 displayed on the screen

Fake news! A familiar refrain made popular by a former US president.

Fake news is certainly not new. False and distorted facts have been a part of media history for centuries, long before the advent of social media. However, it seems to be much more prevalent these days with social media and the 24/7 online news cycle making it much easier for fake news stories to spread.

In fact, a recent survey by Research Co. found that almost 40% of Canadians say they found links to stories on current affairs that were obviously false in their social media feeds in the past 12 months. The survey found that social media users in Ontario are more likely to report being exposed to fake news (47%) than their counterparts in other provinces. British Columbia came in at 39% and other areas of the country saw slightly lower rates – Atlantic Canada (36%), Alberta (33%), Quebec (33%), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (32%).

More than 70% of Canadian social media users claim it is difficult to discern which accounts are real and which ones are fake – that number is higher (78%) among people aged 55 and over.

So, how do you separate fact from fiction when it comes to online news sources?

University Canada West professor Karen Tankard, a former journalist who teaches communications, is an expert in media manipulation and fake news. She shared some of her top tips for spotting fake news.

Consider the source

Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.

Check the author

Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?

Check the date

Reposting old new stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.

Check your biases

Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.

Read beyond

Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?

Check supporting sources

Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.

Is it a joke?

If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and the author to be sure.

Ask the experts

Consult a fact-checking site like canadafactcheck.ca, FactCheck.org or snopes.com.

The Canadian government has taken steps in recent years to try and combat the spread of misinformation and fake news.

In 2019, the federal government launched the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol in an effort to tackle fake news and other interference in election campaigns. Part of the protocol, which is overseen by senior level non-political government officials, is to inform Canadians about concerning online behaviour or content during a campaign.

The government also launched Canada’s Digital Charter, which targets fake news and hate speech online and aims to hold social media platforms accountable to their role in allowing the spread of disinformation.

 

Published on Sept. 17, 2021.