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How to spot fake news and stop the spread of it during Covid-19 pandemic

Fake news have been around for years, however due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a rise in the number of fake news spreading around on social media. This has caused unnecessary panic and frenzy among citizens, and it may be one of the factors that result in panic buying and hoarding of medical supplies like face masks. In this trying period, it is understandable that you want to spread the most recent news of Covid-19 to your friends and family members to keep them well informed. However, we should be aware of what type of news we are spreading by identifying fake news and curbing the spread of it.

In 2019, the Singapore government has implemented a new law to curb fake news called POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act). POFMA seeks to prevent the falsehoods of electronic communication to create a safer online platform. While such measures help to prevent the spread of fake news, we should also play our part to advocate for a safer internet space.

In order to identify fake news, we should first understand what is fake news. Some might not have the concept of what fake news is, hence they may assume that every news they receive is real. According to Webopedia, an online tech dictionary, it defines fake news as

False information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-mouth.

Here are 4 few questions you can ask yourself before disseminating the news you receive to others:

1. Is the source of news reliable?

Do you recoginse the platform that the news was posted on? Be aware of the website URL or social media page that the article is posted on, some pages can be made to look reliable. One good example is The States Times Review. It is infamously known for writing articles to troll Singapore, and the writer has been known to have posted several fake news which led to his website being banned. Some citizens have actually fallen for the articles thinking that it was written by the Straits Times due to their similar names. If you are not sure if the news is from a verified source, you can always do a quick Google search to see if other official websites like Today Online or Channel News Asia have posted similar contents.

Image credits: The Straits Times

2. Does the headlines of these news sound neutral to you?

If the title of an article evokes an emotion out of you, the news is probably fake. Official newspapers have neutral headlines, just like they are only reporting facts. People that publish fake news have the intention to manipulate readers’ feelings so that it makes them more likely to share the news. A 40 year old Singaporean man was charged as he posted false news on a Facebook page claiming that all food courts and hawker centers will be closed, while supermarkets will only open two days a week. He even prompted citizens to stock up on their food supply as the measures would be finalised by the government soon. Such headlines evoke fear among citizens and may potentially cause them to panic buy. Therefore, always be aware of what kind of headlines writers are using in their posts. Titles that make you burst out into laughter or cause panic within you are warning signs to inform you that the article might be fake.

3. Who wrote the article or news?

There should be an author name at the start or the end of the article if it is published under a reliable source. If the article is published on a website that you are not familiar with, always check for grammatical or spelling errors. Writers who write for a living should not be making amateur mistakes, especially when their names are going to be displayed on the article. To verify the authenticity of the writer, check for other articles that were written by him. If those articles have been verified by reliable sources, what he has written is more likely to be real.

4. Are the images linked to the article accurate?

Fake news spreads faster when pictures are included to make it look reliable. However, pictures can be taken out of context and used inappropriately. One example would be a video of a man found hanging on a stairwell. This did not happen in Singapore, but the video spread like wildfire on Whatsapp, causing many citizens to criticise the government for not treating foreign workers properly during this Covid-19 pandemic. Always double check the pictures or videos you see online before sending it to your loved ones. Refrain from spreading text messages, or media that have not been verified by reliable sources.

Image credits: The Singapore Police Force

It is important to be critical thinkers during this period of time when fake news is on the rise and to be able to identify fake news is one step closer to stopping the spread of it. Following next should be advocacy. You may know that this article or text message is fake, but if your friends and family members do not know that, the news continues to spread. By educating the people around you, more people are aware of falsified information and they can do their part to create that awareness among their own circle of people.

Here are 3 steps you can take to educate your loved ones about fake news:

1. Identify

It is common that news are spread through online communication platforms or social media. If you were to receive such news from your family and friends, it is key to be able to identify which are fake news. When in doubt, always clarify with official websites or pages. One website you can turn to for updates regarding Covid-19 is the Ministry of Health website. If they have yet to report it, it is best to identify them as fake news until verified.

2. Inform

By identifying, you are then able to inform the senders that such information sent is false. Educate them how to detect fake news that they receive from others.

3. Delete

To curb the spread of fake news, ensure that your family members and friends delete those fake news that they have mass sent to others. It reduces the chances of others receiving and spreading them as well. Always remember: if you are unsure, don’t send it to someone else.

Fake news will always be around due to someone else’s ill intention to troll, criticise, or scare people receiving such contents. While the government is playing their part to keep us safe online, we should also do our part to prevent the spread of such news. We are all trying our best to keep each other safe during this pandemic, and we should continue to do so even in the cyber world. Practice critical thinking and responsible sharing.

There are many ways to advocate for a safer online space and one way is to raise awareness! If you love drawing, you can contribute through your drawings by participating in our Make The Change Design For Good youth competition where you create an artwork that speaks for a better internet space. Click here to learn more!

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