How to fact-check when news is breaking

How to fact-check when news is breaking

By: vivek j&
October 9 2023

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How to fact-check when news is breaking

(Rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel, in Gaza, October 9, 2023. Source: Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

On Saturday, October 7, Hamas – an Islamist militant group which controls the Gaza Strip – launched its largest attack on Israel. They targeted military installations, killed and held soldiers and civilians hostage. More than 1,100 have been killed on both sides, as per a report in the Associated Press. The attack, which came without a warning, has led to a significant upsurge in mis/disinformation around it. 

And as has become rampant amid geopolitical issues, conflict, and natural calamities social media platforms are rife with old and unrelated videos/images. Most of us tend to trust these visuals with whichever narratives they are shared because of an information vacuum or lack of available information. 

So, how does one verify the information we see online?

Verifying information

  • Google is a fact-checker’s best friend. Sounds like a cliche but it’s true. Run a Google search to see who all are talking about that information. If there is no credible source or report on it then probably it’s not true. Might be wise to wait. 
  • Do check who the information is being attributed to. Is it just a random social media post? Is it attributed to an agency or authority? And has the agency/authority made an official statement? On several occasions, information is often misattributed. So, always check the primary source of information. 
  • Occasionally, satire and memes are used as a weapon to share misinformation. So, it’s always a good idea to check if something is being shared as a joke or real news. 

Verifying images and videos

Old, unrelated visuals – images and videos – often get shared in times of crisis. To verify these visuals, one can simply conduct a reverse image search using Google Lens or use the InVid plugin on Google Chrome. The same can be used to verify videos. 

But if a reverse image search doesn’t yield any result do look at the following information: 

  • Where was it first shared? 
  • Who shared it? 
  • Was any attribution or source of the image/video mentioned? 

If you can only find the images/videos on an obscure website or post then it’s a good enough reason to not trust it blindly. 

Rely on trusted sources and authorities

In a situation like a war, flood, an earthquake, or a political crisis, there ought to be a gap between the news break and the details of the event. Presence of bot and impostor accounts on social media has exacerbated the spread of false information by taking advantage of time taken to share authoritative and official communication. So, follow authoritative and trusted information sources: 

  • What are on-ground reporters saying? 
  • What is the government saying? 
  • Any NGO and civil society organizations following the developments? 

Be wary of accounts that exhibit bot-like behavior or have a history of sharing unverified information. 

Making these small habits a part of our routine can play a big role in mitigating the impact of mis/disinformation in such situations. Remember, it’s the information vacuum that lets misinformation breed. So, try and fill the vacuum with credible and verified information and don’t share anything without verifying. 

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before