7 Ways to Avoid the Spread of Fake News

7 Ways to Avoid the Spread of Fake News

Philippa Dods
28 August 2019

WhatsApp is the country’s top mobile messaging app, but is every single message you receive truthful, or are you falling for fake news on a daily basis? Find out seven top ways to identify and stop the spread of artificial news when those massages arrive.

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The State of WhatsApp in India

It is official – TechCrunch has confirmed that WhatsApp now has over 400 million monthly active users in India. This is larger than the entire population of the United States. It also makes India the place there WhatsApp is used most across the globe. In 2017, WhatsApp hit 200 million users in India – which means it’s doubled its user base in just two years. There’s no denying this is incredible growth.

In addition, India is nearing 500 million active internet users, and currently has approximately 450 million smartphone users, meaning that WhatsApp will likely soon be used by every single Indian smartphone holder.

But we have bigger problems than constantly pinging phones causing an office distraction to deal with. There are ever-spiralling fake news reports on the mobile messaging platform that users need to be aware of.

Video Veracity: Falling for Fake News via Phone

News18 reported this week, “No, Mumbai is not under a terror attack, ignore fake news being circulated on WhatsApp.”

The message was widely circulated on social media, particularly on WhatsApp and Facebook. It featured a video message allegedly by the Mumbai Police Commissioner, asking residents to stay indoors. “Total Mumbai under terrorist attack. Please be careful. All railway stations. All bars and cinema halls. Auditoriums. All public places. Please forward to all groups.”

While it’s exceedingly more difficult to assess whether videos have been faked or not, the “please forward to all groups” part of the message in particular is a red bell-ringer for whether or not it’s authentic.

News18 says it just took a reverse search of the screenshot taken from the video to find that this shortened clip is actually part of a longer 1:29 minute video on YouTube. That’s also where it became apparent that the man in the video is not in fact Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve but instead Brigadier Hemant Mahajan.

Given the current climate of fear and social media activism that’s risen following the scrapping of Article 370, many spread the video, only to further spread unnecessary panic.

This incident alone serves as fair warning to think twice before you forward a video on WhatsApp, or any social media platform, for that matter which may only cause unnecessary widespread panic.

That may seem a little disingenuous, as that’s the point of the platform – communicating with your loved ones. But you also don’t want them to fall prey to a prank or worse, identity theft just because you sent on a dodgy message without doing due diligence.

Unfortunately, turbulent times like elections and changes of leadership make us ripe to fall for misinformation and propaganda as we clutch at straws for false hope and spread messages quickly in the hope of warning our friends and family and keeping them safe. There was so much of this that the BBC went so far as to dub WhatsApp the “black hole” of fake news in the run-up to the 2019 election, where old images were being shared with false captions.

DigitalTrends goes so far as to call it an “around-the-clock avalanche of misinformation“, with serious consequences as it’s said to have “mislead mobs into lynching innocents and enabling partisans to abuse its far-reaching presence for political gain.”

Tips To Avoid Falling Prey to Fake News (From WhatsApp Itself)

Though NextWeb reported four months ago that WhatsApp’s Checkpoint fake news tip line and Proto, WhatsApp‘s project partner, were extremely slow to respond and “just for research purposes,” particularly to verify misleading messages during the election, there’s still lots you can do to ensure you’re not spreading false news without feeling that you shouldn’t dare press “Forward.”

WhatsApp recently partnered with media skill start-up, Proto, for its “Checkpoint Tipline” initiative, where people in India can submit misinformation or rumours to the Checkpoint Tipline on WhatsApp. Although NextWeb reported that WhatsApp Checkpoint is slow to respond and “just for research purposes,” particularly to verify misleading messages during the election, there’s still lots you can do to ensure you’re not spreading false news without feeling that you shouldn’t dare press “Forward.”

WhatsApp itself has shared the seven following tips to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news, whether specifically in WhatsApp messages or on other social media:

1. Take Note of the “Forwarded” Label

The new grey italics “forwarded” label at the top of certain messages is a clear indicator that it originated elsewhere from the source that sent it to you. A WhatsApp can only be forwarded to five recipients at a time, in an attempt to curb this form of fake news-spreading.

2. Carefully Check Photos and Other Media

But not all messages are forwarded, and up to 256 people can be part of a group – especially of extended family members. In this day and age, there’s nothing easier than editing a photo, audio file or even video to look like something it’s not, or copy-pasting a link and pressing Send.

WhatsApp says to check whether other trusted news sources are spreading the “see it to believe it” content, as that means it’s more likely to be true, having been vetted by the various media’s internal teams. Click here to do a reverse image search on your phone, and watch Bloomberg’s video on the rise of deep fake content.

3. If the message looks ‘different’, take it with a pinch of salt

Hoaxes and fake news said to be from official bodies and authorities often contain clunky phrasing, spelling mistakes and web domain names that seem slightly off. If they ask you to tap on a link to activate special content or for personal information like credit card and bank account numbers, birthdate, passwords, beware!

4. Check your biases at the door to information

Taking things a step further, WhatsApp says to keep an eye out for information that confirms your views, and be sure to review the facts before sharing them. If you get the feeling it’s too good (or bad) to be true, ignore for now.

5. If it’s ‘gone viral’, chances are it’s fake news

Just because numerous friends and family have shared the same message with you, doesn’t make it true – they could have all fallen for a story that seems official but falls short on facts. Don’t ever feel compelled to forward a message just because the sender urges you to do so.

6. Verify against other sources – and check their sources

Google is your friend – as are sites like SM Hoaxslayer. If you’re still in doubt, check with sites specifically built for this purpose. The BBC says Indian fact-checking websites like AltNews and Boom frequently debunk public political posts shared on Facebook and Twitter, but WhatsApp posts tend to be private and encrypted, as it’s seen as a mostly global human right to be able to communicate privately online. So check if the news has been shared on other social platforms, then verify whether it’s real or not.

7. Last, and most important: Stop the spread!

If your careful checking reveals you have indeed almost fallen for fake news, make sure you stop the spread in its tracks. Let the person who sent you the fake news know what you’ve found out, and be ask them to tell everyone else they sent the message onto to. It may not have been done out of malice, they may not have realised it was fake news to start with, and simply panicked and tried to share with everyone they know. On the other hand, some seem to thrive on spreading fake news. If you find that’s the case, you can report or ban either a contact or group for doing so – here’s how.

It’s on all of us to do what we can to halt the spread of misinformation, especially on easy-sharing platforms like WhatsApp – and that’s the truth!

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