The entire internet, especially social media, is flooded with a massive amount of fake news, fake photos and deep fakes. It has been and probably will be the case for a long time because the development of technology gives such opportunities to people whose intentions are not pure. As I write this post, I see fake news from Ukraine on Twitter all the time. There is no point in escalating during classes and discussions about the situation in Ukraine. Instead, it is better to give students the tools to distinguish what is authentic from what only pretends to be true.
It is not always easy to tell which articles, accounts, and photos are legitimate and which are fake. A 2018 study by Stanford University found that college students aren’t very good at distinguishing between real and fake news online. Perhaps it is because we are not always able to look critically enough at what we read. Maybe we do not even want to waste time assessing the authenticity of the material or looking for justification. However, the most important thing right now is not to take part in the dissemination of disinformation.
Below, you will find some tips to share with your students, especially today. What is common to all of them is the need for the person reading the text to demonstrate constructive doubt, which is why many take the form of questions.
- Check the source of the story being told: is it from a reputable organization such as a university or news agency? If you don’t recognize the source, try to find out more about it elsewhere.
- Check if the message comes from an organization with its own agenda.
- Remember that some sites will use URLs similar to legitimate sites, but with a slight difference (for example, a misplaced letter in the name or different from the original domain, instead of “.com” – “.net”). It is a common scam technique.
- Try to compare what you read about or watch with news from reputable agencies.
- Check the validity of any evidence provided in the article, referring to the references, see what and who is behind them. Thanks to this, you have a chance to check if they are authentic.
- Think about how sensational the headline is? Does the attached article fit it? Many people get excited about headlines and share them without reading the content, let alone verifying it.
- Is the story well-written and grammatically correct? Is the spelling correct? While legal sources may sometimes contain spelling or grammar errors, these tend to be more common in fake articles.
- Check the publication date – many legitimate news agencies publish fake news for fun on April 1. Even if it’s not an April Fool’s joke, the date can sometimes offer some clues.
- Consider whether the photos are authentic and up-to-date? Or are they doctored?
- Think if the story you are telling is a satire or a joke? Read it carefully and check the website it came from. Look for texts in the small print; maybe there will be additional information showing that the text is a joke.
- Use your knowledge and intuition. Ask yourself the following question: Does this story really sound plausible? If it sounds far-fetched, it probably is.
- Ask yourself this fundamental and crucial question: do you want to believe this story? It would be best if you were even more careful about topics close to your beliefs to counteract the confirmation bias.
Many sites check the credibility of information, including International Fact-Checking Network and Stop Fake. I encourage you to follow them on Twitter. Below you will find an idea for an activity. On this topic: Get Bad News – you can play the role of a propagator of fake news and disinformation to see how it works.
The image above is a photo that was supposedly taken on 24/02/2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. It shows soldiers mounting a Russian flag on a government building. It is to be proof of how quickly Russian soldiers are taking over Ukrainian cities.
Imagine that you are writing a piece on the situation in Ukraine. Is this photo proof of the Russian military successes and the slight resistance of the Ukrainians? What is your intuition telling you? What additional information do you need before deciding on the authenticity of this message? Make a list of all the things you would like to know before making your final decision.
Compare your list with that of your classmates. Give each other feedback on the questions you wrote down. How can you improve your research to ensure that the information you use to write the text is reliable?
Search on the internet information on Russian soldiers in Kharkiv. Was your intuition correct? What helped you make your decision?