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18 Mar 2020

How to spot fake news

Fake news is unhelpful at the best of times, but it's especially important now to know how to spot it, and avoid passing it on

Like many situations that prey on public concern and vulnerability, coronavirus fears are already resulting in an increase in misinformation and 'fake news'.

The BBC recently issued an explainer surrounding myths about coronavirus and ibuprofen. It reports on a great deal of misinformation online, often propagated through social media and WhatsApp groups, and attempts to set the issue straight on a question that many have been asking.

Misinformation and fake news can make an already difficult situation even harder to manage, so it's more important than ever to ensure that you're getting the complete picture, and relaying accurate information on to others.

We spoke to tech expert James O'Malley to get his take on the ways to spot fake news, and find the real story.

  • Read more about coronavirus scams and how to avoid them, to ensure you stay safe both online and in the home.
  • You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.

Five ways to spot fake news

1. Train your intuition

The classic advice still rings true: if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Things that sound the most surprising are often the things that need to be checked most carefully, so it's important to develop a sense for when something needs double (or triple) checking before passing it on.

2. Actually read the article

This might sound obvious, but a lot of online news consumption is passive, as we just see headlines as they scroll by. If you actually read the article, it can offer clues as to its credibility - and trigger that sixth-sense you're training to detect fake news.

3. Check the source

Is the source of the news an outlet that can be trusted, that has a reputation for being credible, or is it just a blog that you've never heard of before? It's also important to dig further to find out the primary source of the claims if you can. The text of the article should give you some clues here: does it mention that the story was originally broken by another outlet? Is the story being reported elsewhere? If the story is about a report published by a government department or an organisation, can you find it on their website?

4. Check when the article was published

A story can be true at the time of publication but the facts may change later - so are you looking at news, or 'olds'?

5. Ask the experts or consult fact-checkers

Organisations like FullFact and Snopes exist specifically to fact-check news stories and viral content. So whether it's a claim from a government minister that a tax rise will pay for a new hospital, or a viral Facebook post making lurid claims about the Prime Minister's private life, these sources will be able to provide credible answers.

There's one other thing to consider - which is perhaps the most important. If you see a questionable story or claim that you're not sure is true, you can help prevent the spread of fake news by doing this one thing: don't share it!

The tips in this story are from James O'Malley's upcoming article in Which? Computing: What is fake news? Existing subscribers can look out for it in the June issue, or click to find out more about subscribing to Which? Computing.