Beware the Covid-19 Infodemic - How you can spot fake news

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Covid-19 caused a lot of anxiety since the first cases were announced in January. This sparked fear, anger, confusion and unfortunately, another virus that we’re all susceptible to. 

Fake news, false news, misinformation, disinformation, opinion masquerading as fact – whatever you want to call it – you’re being lied to and it needs to stop.

If you just rolled your eyes and dismissed this article as ‘clickbait’, don’t be so quick to move on to another story.

 

Fake news has always been a problem (albeit in the background) that wasn’t taken seriously. 

Sometimes, however - especially in the political sector – fake news has the potential to cause major, not to mention irreparable, damage capable of ending careers, marriages, and unfortunately, lives.

In the case of Covid-19, these messages may contain useless, incorrect or even harmful information and advice, which can hamper the public health response and add to social disorder and division.

It has become such a major problem during the current pandemic that the rapid spread of false information has been labelled an “infodemic”.

Fake news is generally spread via social media as the ‘share’ function makes it easier to disperse it to a wide audience. Research done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that fake news spreads faster and further than ‘true news’.

What’s more, creators of these lies are becoming more sophisticated by the day. So much so that identifying false information can be near impossible if you don’t know what to look for.

Luckily, we’re here to help. 

Below is a list of the most common characteristics of fake news, how you can identify false information, as well as what you can do to help put an end to this digital pandemic – one lie at a time.

Who published the content?
 
Before you hit that share button (regardless of how ‘juicy’ the story is), find out who wrote and published the article. Google the website and look at what other people are saying about their popularity and credibility.

Also, take a moment to read through the ‘About us’ or ‘Contact us’ pages for a little more information. If the website doesn’t have these pages, move on to another, more well-known website to get your news-fix.

Tip: Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources. 

Type the headline into Google (or whichever search engine you use)
 
Unless the story is breaking news that the publication was the first to report on, you will find other articles covering the topic online.

If you don’t, visit another known-to-be reputable news website.

Be careful though – some fake news sources create a mixture of true and false information which only makes it more difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Look for errors

Any news source worth their salt will not make any stylistic or grammatical errors such as using multiple exclamation marks, typing words in all-caps etc.

News writing is objective – the journalist must get straight to the point and avoid voicing their opinions or personal biases in the article. News stories must be factual, error-free, and to-the-point. 

Does the article contain quotes from reputable sources?
 
This is a sure-fire way to identify a credible news story. A news story that contains a quote from a reputable source adds an additional layer of integrity.

You will be able to do your own research on the individual quoted in the article and decide for yourself whether the source is reputable. 

Look at when the article was posted
 
Does the article report the latest news or is it simply reposted from a previous story and adapted to suit the current situation?

Do you feel forced to share the post?
 
Be wary of articles that ‘force’ you to share it on social media and other platforms. This is how viral messaging works and fake news spreads.

What is the penalty for sharing fake news in South Africa?
 
Fake news and other forms of misinformation about the coronavirus are strictly prohibited. The punishment for creating fake news is a fine or a prison term of up to six months – or both.

This is relatively lenient – in countries such as the USA, the penalties for creating and spreading misinformation is $1,500 (R26 155) and up to eight years in prison.

What you can do.

Report fake news through the Real411 website or the Whatsapp line 067 966 4015. 

Who to trust.

Here is a list of credible news sources that you can trust to deliver relevant, up-to-date, and fact-based information on Covid-19.

 

And of course, Skills Portal.

We take pride in bringing you accurate, relevant, and up to date information on training, skills development, education, and Covid-19.

Like us on Facebook to receive the latest new updates straight to your newsfeed. 

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