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In the age of social media, it is easy for misinformation to spread like wildfire. Here are some tips on how to keep an eye out for fake or misleading news. 

Navigate misinformation in WhatsApp forwards

Pro Tip: If someone is sharing a “news report” with you, which doesn’t have a source link, do a quick Google search to see if at least one or two established news publications have reported on that story. Even if someone writes the name of a source without a link, run an online search on the mentioned news source to see if it actually published that story. 

Example: We recently came across a WhatsApp forward titled, “Report by The New York Times on Feb 5, 2021. In the Safety Ranking, the Top Four are all Chinese vaccines.” We checked online to see if The New York Times actually published a list that ranks the safety of worldwide COVID-19 vaccines. It turns out, they did not.

[Image Description: A screengrab from a WhatsApp conversation with a forwarded message] via the author
According to an AFP Fact Check, the information in the WhatsApp forward is misleading. The New York Times did publish an article titled “It’s time to trust China’s and Russia’s vaccines.” However, the article was published as an opinion essay. The article wasn’t an editorial endorsement or an actual piece of reporting by The New York Times. 

On March 10, 2021, The New York Times posted the below statement on its official Twitter page saying they were aware of “misleading messages circulating on WhatsApp…”

[Image Description: A screengrab from The International Herald’s Twitter page]

Spot fake news posts on social media

Pro Tip: Sometimes platforms that appear to be media outlets are reporting misleading information on social media.

If an event in a specific country is trending on social media, read what an assortment of local and international news publications are saying to see if there is some truth to the story.

Check if the main source of news is a legitimate publication. 

Here’s an example: On October 20, 2020, The International Herald, which has around 11 million Twitter followers, tweeted about a “civil war” in Pakistan. In one tweet, it wrote:

[Image Description: A screengrab from The International Herald’s Twitter page
However, BBC said The International Herald was registered under a now-defunct Indian company in 2018. According to Pakistani media, the police arrested political opposition leader, Captain Muhammad Safdar, in Karachi. Another opposition leader alleged that Rangers abducted the Sindh Police Chief and forced him to sign orders for Safdar’s arrest. However, claims about a violent confrontation between the army and the police were sensationalized and exaggerated. 

Prevent misinformation from spreading on social media

Pro tip: People known to be professional journalists can also be wrong. Keeping an eye out for their mistakes requires strong attention to detail. Instinct is also a big factor.

 Example: There was recently a disinformation campaign against the Aurat March (i.e. women’s march) in Pakistan. Some unidentified person or group edited the subtitles in a video of Aurat March participants chanting slogans, and replaced the original captions with content that is considered “blasphemous” or “anti-Islam.” 

Some well-known Pakistani journalists with large Twitter platforms also shared or commented on the video without verifying its authenticity.

Letting misinformation like this go viral on social media is dangerous. Before sharing or commenting on the fake Aurat March video, people should have:

Paid close attention to what the march participants were actually saying to see if it matched the subtitles.

Asked themselves why Aurat March participants would publicly chant “blasphemous” and “anti-Islam” slogans in a country like Pakistan, where blasphemy can be punishable by death.

Thought about the context. The Aurat March continuously faces threats and backlash in Pakistan. It is highly likely that someone who disagrees with the women’s movement is trying to weaken its cause by spreading misinformation.

Key takeaways

It’s hard to follow this system perfectly. Speaking from experience, it takes a lot of time and practice. The key takeaway is to be alert, question what you read, and don’t believe everything you read unless you are certain it is real news.

This guest post is a part of The Tempest’s collaboration with The NewsRun. For the next month, we are working together to encourage mindful and smart news consumption. Head over to our Instagram to know more! 

  • Anam Khan

    Anam Khan is the Founder of The NewsRun. She has a professional background in writing, research and communications. In the past, she has created content for startups, media organizations and nonprofits.