FAKE NEWS! A term that quickly became a part of the vernacular of most citizens, in large part thanks to the current President of the United States. So, what is fake news?

Fake news is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an article that may look just like any other news article… except it isn’t true. With most of us choosing to get our news from a variety of digital newsfeeds – such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter –many people can’t tell the difference between what is real news or fake. Therefore, it’s crucial that all of us (especially young people) learn to decode what we read online to accurately assess its validity.

So, here are five ways to help you, your children and your students decode what is real from what is fake and help to truly separate fact from fiction.

1. Be critical!

Don’t just take what you read for face value. It is important to ask yourself questions when you come across a “piece of news” to determine whether it is real, exaggerated or fake.
·        Who has made this? Are they credible and reputable?
·        Who is the target audience?
·        Who paid for this? Or, who is getting paid if you click on this?
·        Who might benefit from or be harmed by this message?
·        What information is left out of this message that might be important?
·        Is this credible? What makes you think it is or isn’t?

By looking at a piece of “news” and asking these questions it will quickly become clear if the story is real or fake. Check whether the story has been picked up by credible news publishers. Stories from organisations like the ABC and The Australian will have checked and verified their sources beforehand. If the story you are reading is not from a well-known source, this is cause to be cautious.

2. Don’t believe everything you read!

More so than ever, our own understanding of media and the role it plays in informing us has unfortunately been muddied through the privatisation of “breaking news”. We must draw upon our ability to comprehend and think critically (also know as literacy skills) as we navigate mainstream media. This requires digital citizens to develop critical skills such as conceptional understanding and knowledge of media literacy.

All in all, common sense will prevail. But, it takes practise to develop these digital smarts. If a story sounds unbelievable, it probably is.

Fake News Example 1

3. Are they fishing for click-bait?

We have all done it. We are checking our digital news-feeds and we come across a post (often a sponsored post) that sparks some curiosity around something you are interested in – celebrity gossip, humour or even current events – by using an intriguing title.

The basic concept of ‘click-bait’ is to use a melodramatic and enticing title for an online article to manipulate and hook people into clicking the link and reading the content. “Man Hugs a Tiger… you won’t believe what happens next” and “90% of people can’t solve this riddle? Can you?” … or perhaps give just the right amount of information to leave you wanting more … such as, “15 Tweets that prove NBA star Lebron James is a cheat”. To avoid begin hooked by click-bait, be vigilant. Ask yourself: “Is the headline too funny/too positive/too scary/too unbelievable?”. 

Work with young people to understand the motivation for “fake news” sites – to create pathways to advertising material.

4. Have your emotions been triggered?

Check your emotions. Click-bait and fake news strive to pull you in by trying to get an extreme reaction. If the news you’re reading makes you feel angry, outraged or even causes you to laugh out loud, it could be a sign that you’re being played through fake news. Check multiple sources before trusting the story is real. Credible news outlets and their stories may trigger an emotional response, but, these emotional reactions are evoked by truth and facts, rather than preying on your emotions to obtain readership.

Below is an example of a headline designed to trigger fear, which may lead to people panicking and on-sharing.

Fake News Example 2

5. Is it a joke?

Satirical sites, such as The Betoota Advocate and The Shovel, are extremely popular online. These often share a similar format to mainstream news articles and are deliberately designed to look the same as credible news and media outlets.

Take the example below. It look likes like most newspapers you would purchase, with the subtle difference of humorous stories with little to no facts. If it’s known for parodies or creating funny stories, then it is probably classified as fake news. This doesn’t mean it won’t be entertaining, just that it isn’t factual or real.

Fake News Example 3

Fake news is everywhere and is the reality of our modern media. Learning to identify fake and exaggerated news is an important life skill. Have a go at this choose your own adventure game, which challenges players to make their own decisions on which sources, political claims, social media comments and pictures should be trusted as you contribute to the day’s news output. It’s perfect to play with your class of students or as a family.