Technology & Science

So, you think you've spotted some 'fake news' — now what?

Here are some ways to check what you're seeing online — and some tips for avoiding spreading false or misleading information.

We've put together some tools and tips to help you navigate what you find online

A blog post falsely claiming the Trudeau government gave $465 million to Afghanistan, only for it to disappear, has been circulating on social media. You're likely to encounter these types of stories on social media and see them being shared in messaging apps. (Screengrab: Cultural Action Party, filter by Radio-Canada)

In Part 1 of our guide to spotting "fake news" online, we looked at different kinds of false or misleading online content.

Here, we discuss where you're most likely to find disinformation, and we offer some tools to help you verify or debunk what you're seeing.

Where am I likely to find disinformation?

You're most likely to come across disinformation on social media, especially on Facebook and Twitter, but also on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Reddit.

You may be sent disinformation or misinformation if you're in groups on messaging apps like WhatsApp or WeChat.

An asylum seeker is processed by RCMP officers after crossing the border into Canada from Champlain, N.Y., in Hemmingford, Que., on Aug. 4, 2017. Misleading information on social media has created confusion about some asylum seekers. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Misleading information on social media led thousands of Haitian nationals living in the United States — who feared they were going to be deported back to Haiti — to cross the border into Canada in 2017.

That kind of misinformation can be hard to fight, because it often comes from trusted friends or family members and appears to offer advice the recipient wants.

You may see misinformation in mainstream media sources, or coming from official government accounts. In breaking news situations, media outlets might report something that later turns out to be false, or that ceases to be true because the situation has changed.

It's always important to read critically and ask if the information you're receiving matches up with other reports and with information you know to be true.

Rumours and disinformation may spread quickly on messaging apps because the content is what recipients want to hear, or the information stokes fear. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

How do I know if it's disinformation? 

The tricky part of spotting disinformation is that it might not look fake at first. Here are a few things you should ask yourself while you're reading or watching:

  • Does the story seem too good (or bad) to be true?
  • Does it seem to confirm stereotypes about a group of people?
  • Does it seem to confirm my beliefs?
  • Are the details in the story thin or unavailable?
  • Does the body of the story match the headline or tweet? 
  • When was the story published? Is it new? If it's a few years old, why is it circulating now?
  • Does the story have a named writer or producer? 
  • Does the video have a named producer or editor? 
  • Does the person appearing in the video have a real name or a nickname?
  • Have I heard of this organization before? 
  • What do I know about this organization?
  • Does this organization have contact information? What happens when I try to contact it?
  • Does this organization have reporters and writers who can be found on social media? Can I see their bylines on the organization's website?
  • What is the domain name (web address) of the website? Have I heard of it before? Can I look it up? Does it sound like the address of a similar website with a different ending?
  • Can I find another source that confirms this information? Can I find one that counters it?

A reputable news outlet has an interest in being reliable, reachable, transparent and clear. You should be able to reach out to an editor or reporter at a publication if you have questions or concerns.

If you can't figure out who runs a site or a page, or who writes for it, be skeptical.

If you see something that you think is fake and misleading, you can report it on social media by using the "report" function on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

If you come across a piece of information online that you aren't sure is true, even after trying to verify it, don't share it. (Photo illustration/Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Are there tools for checking content? 

Absolutely.

First, look for the story on fact-checking sites.

Many websites examine stories for accuracy. They're good places to start if you're seeing something pop up over and over.

Google Image Search

You can use the reverse image search function on Google to find the origin of a photo or image. The search results also can help identify a person in a photo, or show where a photo was first published. (Screenshot/Google)

It's common for photos to be mislabelled or otherwise misidentified. One way to check the source of a photo is to use Google's Image Search function. You can right-click on a photo to copy its internet address and then search for it in Google. You can even upload a photo to Google Image Search; it will try to approximate when and where the photo was first used.

At least this will give you more information about the photo and where else it has been displayed. This is especially helpful when an authentic photo is passed around with a different caption.

To access Google Image search, go to www.google.com/images

Click on the little camera icon on the right of the search bar, next to the microphone. You will be prompted either to enter the URL of a photo you've found online or to upload a photo from your computer. Then your results will appear.

Often you'll be able to get additional information about when and where the photo first appeared, along with the people who appear in the photo, if they're well-known.

Here's an example of how to do a search: 

Here's how to do a reverse Google Image search. This can help you learn more about an image's origins and whether or not it's being used in the correct context. (CBC News)

Tracing video

Amnesty International has a tool called the YouTube Data Viewer.

It can tell you when a video was uploaded, and it can provide thumbnails so you can also do a reverse image search. Sometimes you may find older versions of the video. Once you've isolated the thumbnails, you can proceed as above to check the provenance of the image.

How do I avoid spreading misinformation?

  1. Don't just read the headline. Read the whole story before you share it — including the name of the author and the date it was published. If the story is fake, that's where you'll find your first clues — especially if the headline doesn't match the content.

  2. Check to see if other outlets are reporting on the same story. If only one outlet is reporting a story, there might be a good reason — it could be an exclusive, or something based on leaked information or sources who request anonymity. In such cases, other media outlets are usually quick to try to verify the story, or will cover reaction to the story, which gives you more confidence the story is true. But if no mainstream outlets have picked up on the story, and you're only seeing it on blogs or niche outlets, wait to share the story or video.

  3. Do a quick Google search. You may learn new details, or find out that the story was published five years ago, or that the headline is false.

  4. When people tell you something or pass on something that seems like it could be false, ask them more about where they heard, saw or read it.

If in doubt, don't share it. It never hurts to not share something, but it can be damaging to share something that isn't true.

Where can I learn more?

Further reading:

Andrea Bellemare is part of a CBC team investigating online misinformation and attempts to disrupt the upcoming Canadian election. See something you want checked out? Email her at andrea.bellemare@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Andrea Bellemare is a reporter and producer with CBC News who currently focuses on disinformation, tech and privacy. She helped launch the new CBC Kitchener-Waterloo radio station in 2013, reported for CBC Montreal and produced radio docs for CBC Radio. She has also reported for the wire service Agence France-Presse.

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