Six ways to check if what you see online is fake news or the real thing

Never before in a UK general election year has the potential impact of fake news on voters' decisions received such intense scrutiny.

Experts have long forecasted that this bumper election year, with national elections taking place in the UK, US and numerous other countries worldwide, will see an unprecedented surge in fake news.

Last year, the Mirror highlighted that the public's primary concern related to the advancement of Artificial Intelligence technology was the proliferation of fake news. The same report underscored the crucial role of trusted journalism in mitigating the risks associated with fake news.

This year, we've witnessed efforts from diverse entities like Google, OFCOM and the UK Government to raise awareness and combat the issue of fake news.

Just last week, the Electoral Commission issued warnings to election campaigners, urging them not to mislead the public, reports the Mirror.

When we consider disinformation - the intentional dissemination of false information - we might envision Orwellian tactics by hostile state actors such as Russia or North Korea, creating a fictitious scenario that is picked up and amplified by national news outlets.

However, it's far more probable that UK voters are swayed by false information they encounter on social media and direct messaging channels, posted and shared by individuals they trust.

It is important to check where you get your information from -Credit:REACH
It is important to check where you get your information from -Credit:REACH

We're all aware that false narratives can take on many forms - from political party campaign propaganda disguised as local newspaper articles, to shareable memes suggesting politicians or their representatives have made a blunder. It's safe to say that most adults will have encountered some form of fake news during this election campaign, even if they themselves are unaware of it.

This is where trusted news brands like the Mirror play a crucial role - if something appears to be published by a recognised news outlet, online viewers are more likely to trust and share it than information from a less well-known source.

For instance, just last month I came across a post sharing a fabricated inflammatory story about a local business owner in a northern English town. The story featured a newspaper masthead and the name of a journalist who worked for the publication.

Upon closer inspection, the image had been widely shared on Facebook by several people within the local community, many of whom were probably spreading the story without realising its falsehood.

At first glance, the post seemed convincing, but upon closer inspection, minor details revealed the story was a fabrication.

It's the small, yet significantly impactful posts that can convince a group of people connected via social media that an individual among them is guilty of crimes they never committed. It's not the national fake bombshells that might sway the masses on how to vote, but rather the thousands of little lies and insinuations that fly under the radar within communities on social media that have the potential to influence a constituency vote.

That's why this week, the Mirror and its publishing company Reach plc, launched a public awareness campaign to assist audiences in verifying the source of the information they see online.

The #GE2024CheckYourSources campaign offers a series of top tips to online users about how to check the validity of news being shared on social media.

Follow these steps to verify if the news you see online is genuine or likely to be fake:

  1. Check if there is a link back to a trusted news website or source - if not, then you should be suspicious.

  2. Check if the headline appears in an online search - if it doesn't then it is likely to not be genuine.

  3. If a journalist is bylined, check if the story appears on the brand website under their profile.

  4. Check if the brand logo and text on the post is clear and if it looks legitimate.

  5. Check the date of publication to ensure old news is not being presented as recent information.

  6. Report fake news if you spot it on social media platforms.

We can't control the actions of others online - but we can check, question and verify online content. In this general election, taking these kinds of steps has never been more important.

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