Fact, fact, fake, fact

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By the minute, sometimes by the second, reports, images and videos appear in your news feed on the social network you use. You scan headlines, peek at articles, watch the first few seconds of a video. Can it all really be going on?
Social networks today are information spaces where opinions can form and be shared in the blink of an eye. But how to deal with the daily flood of incoming information? Which messages report real news, what’s fake, and what’s just someone spouting their opinion? These are some of the many questions being asked in debates about fake news?
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Fake news explained

Fake news is consciously false and disseminated with the purpose of spreading misinformation. Often the term “filter bubble” appears closely related to fake news. The algorithms in search engines and social networks often show information that resembles previously viewed content. Thus, users get shown content that suit their views and habits much more than before. The impact of the filter bubble is, however, also contentiously debated. There are conflicting reports and studies about whether filtering algorithms put users at an informational advantage or disadvantage.

The reach of fake news

How far fake news can reach out has been shown in a selfie taken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in by a refugee last year. The image went viral and was seen around the globe. But while the original photo only got just under 13,000 reactions, a falsified report identifying the refugee in the photo as a terrorist – intentionally contextualizing the photo under false pretenses – got nearly twice as many reactions. It was the same image, but the fake headline made it so more people cared deeply about the content. They got angry and reacted by posting it.

Social media users contribute to the spread of fake news when they simply share reports without checking to see if it’s real first. The speed with which information gets spread and then remains online in social networks is something that not only children and adolescents underestimate.

The media project from the Nils Holgersson Elementary School shows the potential range a single post on Facebook. The forth grade class wanted to know how quickly an image can spread on social networks and tried an experiment: They asked people on Facebook in a post to share a picture they had taken. Very shortly, the image was shared over 123,000 times!

What to do against fake news

The journalistic principles of information offerings in social media is currently not monitored at a basic level. The German Federal Government is currently redoubling its efforts to take regulatory action against fake news and hate mongering comments. Criminal law avenues are also open when a report gets spread over social networks that meets the offence criteria of libel or defamation.

But, what does this mean for my personal news feed? What was true in analog times is also true in the new digital age: Whoever seeks to truly be well informed should look for several sources that are independent of each other and not just be content with the “information delivery” services of social networks. An important feature is the various reporting functions that social networks have to flag fake news. And one should never share fake news, lest it spread.

Detecting fake news

Distinguishing truth from fiction is often not so easy. The task is to correctly classify the diversity of information, boundless sources and different objectives of users in social networks. The following seven tips will help to detect fake news.

Exaggerated accounts and missing source citations might be signs of fake news. A critical attitude toward information is always appropriate.
Does the news come from a trusted source? It’s always important to take a look at the source page that originally posted the information. Is there a legal notice, name and address? Reputable portals and platforms will be more transparent with their information.
Satire, fake news or the real thing? Look at briefly the other articles on the website, the blog or the social media channel. A quick look allows you to contextualize the report and the source at first glance.
Are there links to the sources and supportive studies? Are there any translation errors? Such questions can be quickly cleared up with some brief research and a critical perspective.
Does the image really belong to this news report, as is claimed, or maybe to some other news source? An image search can help to detect fake photos and distinguish them from the real ones. For this, do a reverse search using a search engine: Use the right mouse key to click on the image and copy its URL. Paste that into the image search. If the image then shows up frequently on dubious websites, this maybe a sign that the story is a hoax.
When the specified information appears to be questionable, check another source. Reliable sources could be a journalistic portal or official police report. Double checking texts and images is helpful in identifying fake news.
Some social networks like Facebook provide functions to report fake news. There are also platforms like Mimikama, a non-profit initiative, that seek to inform about internet abuse, users can flag fake news. The initiative operates a search engine, hoaxsearch.com, to present the reports of fake news they report on. The German news outlet Tagesschau also offers its Faktenfinder.
More in our “Opinion formation” dossier
/mediabase/img/4333.jpg Social media can influence the personal views and opinions of children and young people. Digital opinion leaders
/mediabase/img/3722.jpg Teachtoday talked with the net activist and blogger Markus Beckedahl about the impact of social media on opinion formation. Markus Beckedahl interview

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