You may have heard the terms ‘misinformation' or ‘disinformation’ before.
According to UNICEF, misinformation is false or misleading information that is unwittingly shared, while disinformation is deliberately created and distributed with an intent to deceive or harm.
Together they range from satire and parody to dangerous conspiracy theories.
Misinformation has been used to incite violence and crime, led to lower COVID-19 vaccination rates, undermined trust in journalism and science, and drown out marginalised voices.
The rapid spread of misinformation online affects everyone online and offline and as active digital users, misinformation is very much a part of most young people’s lives. Social media often gives misinformation the ability to spread farther and faster than truthful information and it usually focuses on divisive topics such as immigration, gender politics and equality, and vaccination.
Anyone can share misinformation, and you may have in the past without even knowing.
Fact checking is a key part of slowing the flow of potentially damaging misinformation.
First Things to Check
If a news story or piece of information doesn’t seem right to you or is evoking an emotion it could be possible its misinformation. Here's a number of initial checks on the information which could help you identify if the information is accurate:
- Does the story make sense? If the story or information seems unlikely this could be a sign of misinformation.
- Look out for spelling and grammar mistakes. Often, a sign that information is not accurate is when it is low quality, with spelling mistakes and grammar issues. Reliable sources will have editors to remove these sorts of errors.
- If the source is a social media account, check that it is reliable. Look at what has been posted previously on the account. If they have low followers or the account has been created recently this could be a sign they are not a credible source.
- If you are given a physical document, such as a leaflet, that claims to be factual you can check online to see if the information aligns with the organisation's official information.
What's the Source?
If the information links to an article, take a look at some of the things below to think about:
Where did the story come from? what are they trying to say? Is it an ad or a joke? Look to see if you can find the same story somewhere else.
Who is telling this story, and what do you know about them? They may have a reason for sharing or might have made mistakes. Some sources are more reliable than others – make sure you’re getting news from journalists and official news sites, rather than just social media. Journalists are held to account for what they report and any story in a news outlet will have gone through checks and an editor. So have a look at what they’ve previously written and if their news seems accurate and unbiased – that they just report on the facts, rather than giving an opinion.
Is the story recent or old? It could be outdated or a copy of something that happened years ago. Computer programs called bots post anytime and often, so be wary of this.
Check multiple sources
If the same information can be found on other websites or accounts, it might suggest that what the source is saying has been verified by other people too. Checking multiple sources is a great way to make sure that a person can be trusted, as it shows that other reporters have come to the same conclusion about a news story and that it’s more likely to be true.
Is there a video or are there pictures in the story? Check them using a reverse image search.
Use a Credible Fact-Checking Website
All the links below lead to websites that are members of The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). IFCN promotes a number of globally recognised fact-checking principles to their members. The network also monitors trends in the fact-checking field to offer resources to fact-checkers, contributes to public discourse and provides support for new projects that drive accountability in journalism.
- The Ferret - All stories are reviewed by experienced journalists before publication and checked by lawyers when required.
- FullFact – A registered charity that uses a team of independent fact-checkers and campaigners to find, expose and counter the harm misinformation spreads.
- Poynter - Created The International Fact-Checking Network and advocates of factual information in the global fight against misinformation.
- Teen Fact-Checking Network on Poynter - A website that debunks misinformation and teaches their audience media literacy skills so they can fact-check on their own.
- BBC Reality Check – A source of articles on trending news and how factually correct they are.
Find out more about fake news and staying safe online on our Digi Know page.