Don't spread fake news: Get your facts checked before sharing on social media

Don't spread fake news: Get your facts checked before sharing on social media

The recent Kerala floods saw much media attention. While there was serious reportage that helped save numerous lives, there was also some irresponsible coverage where facts were distorted for certain gains. One such news was shared by a Sreekumar Sreedharannair on Facebook where he said that BJP MPs had donated Rs. 25 crores to the Chief Minister’s Relief Flood. The piece of news was shared over 10,000 times, before anyone verified it. However, it was later revealed that the sum was not donated by BJP MPs but by Central Petroleum Public Sector companies. The cheque was handed over by BJP MP Muraleedharan along with Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism, Alphons Kannathanam on behalf of the companies, hence, prompting the rumour that BJP had donated the amount.

While this piece of fake news is relatively harmless, other, more sinister news has been doing the rounds as well.  The recent horrific mob lynchings which have been reported across the country, over news being spread about purported child lifters, is a reminder of the chilling consequences that fake news can have.  This makes it even more important to check the news that you hear, especially if it comes on social media. A number of websites have now taken up the task of verifying such rumours, fake news and claims to determine their veracity.

Here are some websites that you can cross-check with to verify a piece of news so that you don’t end up believing in or spreading fake news. Founded in 2013 by Govindraj Ethiraj, is an initiative of The Spending & Policy Research Foundation, which also runs the data journalism organisation The fact-checking website picks statements or claims made by public figures and cross-checks its veracity with official data that is available in the public domain. What the website has found out is that while the facts quoted may often be true, they are usually out of context or the perspective may be missing, hence distorting the picture. The fact checking website had also done a live check of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on India’s 72nd Independence Day to verify the claims that he had made.

AltNews: Run by Ahmedabad-based techie, Pratik Sinha, AltNews scrutanises claims made by political parties and leaders, rumours that circulate on social media and news reported by mainstream media. The website also claims to cover issues such as caste-based violence, farmer struggles and religious discrimination. The website uses tools such as Google Reverse Image search to determine the origin of photographs, establishes contact with authorities or police to verify rumours, contacts people and uses primary data to verify statements.

AltNews had recently debunked a fake tweet posted by Delhi High Court Lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao that 280 orphan girls had been made pregnant in ‘Teresa Missionary orphanages and their babies had been sent abroad for trafficking.’ This was after the Missionaries of Charity, Ranchi came under fire for allegedly selling babies to childless couples. AltNews got in touch with the Senior Superintendent of Police, Ranchi who confirmed that while four babies had been sold and were rescued, the claim that 280 girls were trafficked abroad was false.

Check4Spam: Started by IT professionals Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishna Birla, the Bangalore based myth busting website specialises in spams, internet rumours, promotional rumours and news which has been shared online via WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. To check for the veracity of a particular piece of news or promotional item, you can either WhatsApp it to them or submit it on their website. The website has debunked news such as a woman giving birth to 11 babies in a single night, and of the Karnataka police issuing an advisory on being aware of gangs who throw eggs on car windshields in order.

SM Hoax Slayer: Founded by Pankaj Jain, SM Hoax Slayer started as a Facebook page in 2015. Today, the anti-fake news crusader fights against hoaxes and misinformation of all kinds – political, religious or social. Through his website, Jain has busted numerous instances of fake news, including a viral WhatsApp forward which showed the Indian flag flying on top of the Israeli parliament. This was, in fact, a product of photoshop and someone’s imagination.

FactMata: Co-founded by NLP researchers Dhruv Ghulati, Andreas Vlachos and  Sebastian Reidel, FactMata is a crowdsourced community platform which leverages artificial intelligence to reduce online misinformation. The startup is currently developing two sets of tools – one for journalists, news readers and the general public to understand news and perspectives and to detect, verify and fact-check media information. The second tool is to enable businesses and advertisers to avoid placing ads on fake news and extremist content and to spot fake and misleading information.

NewsGuard: Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, journalists and media entrepreneurs, have launched NewsGuard which will hire trained journalists to analyse online news sources to help readers and viewers determine which sources are legitimate and which aren’t. These news sites will also have reliability ratings and nutrition labels which will help readers determine the veracity of each news website. After its US launch, which will be in time for the mid-term elections to be held in November, the startup is looking to go global.

Fact check before sharing:

Here are some tips to ensure that you do not spread fake news blindly:

Check multiple sources: Received ‘news’ on WhatsApp? Check multiple sources to ensure that the news is not fake. Use a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing to verify if this has been reported by other websites and credible news sources. Forward any news item only if you are sure that it is genuine.

Check images: Use tools such as Google reverse image search which will allow you to find the origin of an image that you wish to verify.

Credibility: Find out more about the source of the piece of news you are reading. A good way to do this is to go to the About page and check out who the publishers, financiers and the founders are. This will help you determine the credibility of a piece of news and ascertain if there is any motive behind it.

Check the quality: Websites that churn out fake news and rumours often do not care about grammar or spelling errors since they are mainly concerned about traffic and revenue from ads. Reputable organisations, on the other hand, have high grammatical and proof reading standards.

Fact check with websites: You can cross check with fact-checking websites, to make sure that the piece of information/news you have received has not already been debunked as fake.