True or Fake News? Know How You Can Separate Truth from Fiction Online

In the good old days, it was very easy to separate truth from fiction. Literature was clearly marked and newspapers offered facts. Those who told tall stories, or tabloids that indulged in sensationalism, were generally known and their words were taken with a grain of salt.

People are increasingly taking to the internet to get their daily news dosage. While some subscribe to websites to read newspapers and magazines, others like to browse through WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to get the latest headlines. In the connected era, false news gets dissipated widely via social media. As these stories are easy to understand and sensational, so they have a greater appeal to the masses. And the ones you believe are true, you are very likely to share it online or through chat apps, thus becoming a newsmaker yourself.

So think about it, is everything that you read online, really true? Not always.

Take for instance this piece of ‘news’ that a friend shared on Valentine’s Day, “Shahid Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on this day. Let’s mark this as Remembrance Day.” She really believed this to be true and thought it was her duty to make it common knowledge.

Or the following,

  • UNESCO declares Jana Gana Mana as the best national anthem in the world
  • Delhi man loses 30 kg in three weeks thanks to this superfood

And not surprising at all, all of this ‘news’ is fake.

The fabricated stories are designed to look authentic and intended to either make money by attracting high traffic to the site or to endanger trust.

And like every other trend, cybercriminals are always on the lookout to capitalize. Since Fake news can lead to unverified sources, it gives them every avenue to lead unsuspecting users to unsecure websites, which could be malware/ransomware/phishing traps. For example, when you come across a piece of sensational news, you could subscribe to more updates from the source website which could be a click bait. Subsequently, when you forward such messages, you unknowingly spread the threat.

Should you be worried about fake news?

Can you imagine the effect of fake news on impressionable tweens and teens? Ideally, this part of cybersafety education could be taught in junior school, to ensure children grow up informed and aware that one needs to STOP.THINK.CONNECT. But until that happens, parents need to educate them and for that it is necessary they themselves are aware.

So, time we find out how to identify fake from real and stay clear of them. Always look out for the following signs of danger:

Domain Name:

  • The name is a clever imitation of a genuine site, for e.g., ‘wikipidi’
  • The message contains a link that directs user to another site, which may contain malware

Tip: Don’t get foxed by the fancy looks of a site. Go to the official webpage and verify.

Source of publication:

  • If the source is unknown or anonymous, flag it.
  • If it contains a disclaimer at the end, like “forwarded as received” can you really trust the message?
  • Personal blogs reflect the opinion of the blogger and may or may not be a rational one.
  • Reports and thesis with grammatical and factual errors reveal that the content has not been researched well and may contain factual errors

Tip: Adhere to reputable and official news sites that are known to follow ethical practices of journalism and avoid sensationalism. Cross-check facts.

Your role as a responsible and digital literate person:

  • Be aware: Double check content with well-known sources and cross-verify with other sources
  • Be skeptical: If you feel any content is a hoax, cross-check and then report it. Facebook allows you to do so, as do many other platforms
  • Be sure: Don’t play accomplice, verify before sharing.
  • Be careful: Do not click on links sent via social media without ensuring its authenticity
  • Be dutiful: Educate others when they share incorrect news and report it.

Last but very important, always use comprehensive security software on your device to safeguard your digital life. Fake news often contains cookies and malware intended to harm your device and steal information. It is more difficult to identify fake links and websites on a mobile phone, so you need to secure your smartphone and tablet too. Your security solution will guide you around safe and unsafe websites and help you make the right choice every time. You may also download the free tool, McAfee WebAdvisor, here.

With practice, you will become adept at separating the grain from the chaff. Remember the cybersafety mantra- STOP. THINK. CONNECT. – and practice it.

Stay protected and stay Cybersmart!

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