5 Real Tips for Sniffing Out Fake News

By the SMU Social Media Team

In May last year, Singapore became one of the first countries in the world to take official steps against the growing threat of fake news, with the passing of The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.

The new law has inspired fervent debate both online and in real life, drawing the lines between supporters and detractors. One thing is for sure, though—with a deluge of information now coming at us from all directions on a daily basis, there is a pressing need for everyone to understand what fake news is, and how to spot it.

For a start, we speak to the trusty librarians from Singapore Management University Libraries for their insights on how to filter out fake news. Their rule of thumb advice is simple: Question the information you received—whether it’s a report or paper you come across or an insight you received via a social media app—by using the 4Ws and 1H: Who, What, When, Why, and How.


1. Who?

Consider the source. Is the writer an expert on the topic? An acclaimed academic? A journalist from a reputable newspaper? Or a hobbyist ranting on his personal blog? Once you figure out who wrote the message, it’ll be easier to deduce credibility.

And don’t just consider the author of the message, but also the credibility of the publisher, and the medium through which it’s shared. Today, with machine learning, artificial intelligence and bots, getting to know the message source is important. Even the URL domain can be an indicator, as there are many dubious news sites out there with URLs ending in something most reputable sites do not—such as “.co”.


2. What?

Secondly, question is the content itself. Is it based on facts that can be proven? Or is it someone’s personal opinion? You can also try cross-checking the information with other trusted sources, such as government websites, reputable news agencies and journals published by credible institutions. Run a check for any links and references found within the information in question. Can you find these sources and confirm their claims?


3. When?

It may not always be relevant to question how current a piece of information is, but sometimes this can be an indicator of reliability. Is the content part of a trending topic that’s sparking debate right now? If so, it might be prudent to consider the possibility that perpetrators of fake news may be intentionally creating misinformation to spread panic and fear, or quoting an old news story out of context to take advantage of a volatile situation.


4. Why?

If you’re examining information that has the potential to cause panic and spark fear, then the next question to ask is: why? What could be the motivation of the writer? Could there be an agenda in play? How would that influence the way the information is presented, and how would this affect the recipients of the information?

Basically, it’s a question of context. Why was this piece of information created in the first place? Why are you receiving it? Was it solicited, or did it come to you out of the blue? All these questions could help to unveil possible ulterior motives.


5. How?

Finally, the most important element is one that we can actually control—how to react. While there is a limit to how much we can control the type of information we receive, their sources, and the intentions of the authors of these information, we can control how we respond to them. Critical thinking and reflection about the impact and consequences of our actions need to guide the way we react to information.

Ultimately, when presented with questionable information, all we need to do is a bit of due diligence to quickly uncover any cracks in credibility. After all, the ease of distribution that makes online falsehoods and fake news so potentially pervasive also makes fact-checking much easier. And once we understand the nature of the information we consume, we can apply the same critical skills when deciding what to do with it next.


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