How to spot the signs of fake news: Tips for avoiding online misinformation

Jersey's Chief Minister has warned against 'fake news' after a scam Facebook post used her image to target islanders. Credit: PA Images

While fake news being spread online is nothing new, the reach of social networks allows it to be amplified far more easily.

Recently, Jersey's Chief Minister urged people to be cautious of 'fake news' after a fraudulent Facebook post used her image and a 'shocking scandal' clickbait headline to dupe people into clicking a malicious link.

The offending post directed Facebook users through to a 'phishing' site - one which is designed to resemble a legitimate page but asks a user to log in again, stealing their details in the process.

In this case, the scam post also used the legitimate brand of a recognisable news outlet to try and deceive people into clicking the link.

Do you know how to spot the signs of a 'fake news' post?

The fraudulent post lifted an editorial photo from the Jersey Evening Post - the local newspaper - and combined it with the ITV News logo and a clickbait headline designed to get people on the phishing site.

Both ITV and Jersey's government reported the malicious posts to Facebook as they were identified, but the removal process takes time.

Similar posts have been created following the same format around the world - political leaders, 'shocking scandals' and using a legitimate news brand's logo to generate clicks through to a fraudulent website.

So, how can you be sure that the information you read online isn't 'fake news'? Here's our guide on what to look out for:

How to spot fake news:

  • Check the source: Does the story come from the source it claims to be from? Just because a screenshot or graphic may claim to be from an official source, doesn't mean it is. Make sure the URL posts link to are on an official website like itv.com, with a page title and domain that matches up with the post itself. If you see a story claiming to be from a publication, can you search for it on the official website without clicking the link?

  • Does it sound right to you?: In the case of the post about the Chief Minister, no local news organisation based in the Channel Islands would refer to Jersey as 'a country'. These posts often follow a formula like "Politician scandal shocks country", or "Hot new shopping trends in town" designed to appeal to people wherever the scammers are targeting.

  • Read beyond the headline: Attention-grabbing headlines might draw your eye, but it's important to read beyond them before sharing. Even with legitimate news stories, headlines don't tell the whole story, so it's important to read the article before sharing.

  • Be critical of everything you read: Fake news stories will often use strong, sensationalist language like people being 'shocked' over a 'scandal', but not actually elaborating on the crux of the story. Ask yourself why a story was written - is it to promote a particular viewpoint? or generate clicks through to a website?

  • Is it up-to-date?: Even credible stories can be resurrected at opportune moments in an attempt to prove a point or twist what it says. Before you share, check the date an article was posted to be sure it's not years out-of-date and likely superseded by more current information.

  • Be aware of 'confirmation bias': Social media is a great way of connecting like-minded people with similar interests - but the flipside of that is it's easy to end up in an 'echo chamber' where you predominantly see posts from people who share your worldview and start to dismiss anything that contradicts that. Confirmation bias is when someone favours information that corresponds with their existing opinions or beliefs. If you don't like a particular sports team, political party or business, people are more likely to share posts reflecting that.

  • Satire isn't dead: Satirical tweets, posts and news articles are not necessarily misinformation. Publishers often flag satirical posts with a warning advising people that the content is firmly tongue-in-cheek.