How to spot misinformation online

How to spot misinformation online

By: sam doak&
April 18 2023

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How to spot misinformation online

It can be hard to know whether to trust what you see, read, and hear online. While Logically Facts and other organizations work hard to sort fact from fiction, in a world of fake information, easily edited media, and advanced AI tools, digital literacy is more important. With this in mind, we put together a short guide on ways you can spot misinformation and keep yourself informed. 

How can I tell if a news source is reliable? 

It might be the case that you came across something you’re unsure about on a news site or blog. In cases like this, the best thing you can do is check how other outlets are covering the same statement, issue, or debate. This can be really helpful as you might find information that wasn’t included in the original source, or find how the same thing has been covered by someone with a different point of view. 

If you read about something on an unfamiliar site, it is often worth doing some research on the organization that published the content in question. If a site you’re unsure about appears to be very new or mostly publishes outlandish or inflammatory content, it is generally a good idea to be skeptical about what it publishes. You can also search for whether there is any record of a site publishing misinformation in the past, which can be a good indicator of its reliability. 

What are the best ways to tell if an image is fake or misleading?

Oftentimes, the thing you’re unsure about might be an image. With existing technologies like Photoshop and improvements in AI image generation, it can be hard to tell if what you’re looking at is real or has been presented in a misleading context. 

The best way to quickly check where an image came from is to use a reverse image search. Google currently provides the best tool for this. By uploading your image, you can see where it has been shared before, and by whom, giving you important contextual information. Google will also show you similar pictures to the one you search for, which can oftentimes allow you to easily tell where a photograph has been taken or if it has been edited from an original. 

Image: How to use Google to perform a reverse image search.

It might be the case that an image was created using an AI generator. Recently the use of these tools created a significant amount of confusion following the indictment of Donald Trump, as people used them to make a range of false mugshots to fool social media users. While there are no foolproof methods that can allow you to detect when this is the case, you can look for irregularities in features such as hands, ears, text, and lighting to get a better idea of whether an image is AI-generated. A reverse image search should also give you more context in situations such as these. 

How can I check if a social media account is genuine?  

One of the more common ways people can be tricked online is by coming across fake social media accounts. While some are created maliciously, one of the more common types of fake profiles is parody accounts, which usually post outlandish content for humorous effect. It’s often easy to identify them by following these steps: 

  • Take a closer look at the account. You will often see that parody accounts will explicitly indicate that they are satirical in their bio or elsewhere. 
  • Examine what the account has posted. If most or all of its posts are outlandish, and there is little sign of drier, everyday content, it is most likely a parody account. 

While parody accounts are relatively easy to distinguish, some fake profiles can be harder to detect. In these cases you can try:

  • Searching for the name of the person or organization on the social media platform the account is on. This will let you know if there are multiple accounts with similar names. 
  • Check if the account is verified. This isn’t foolproof, particularly on Twitter where verification is now available to anyone willing to pay a monthly subscription, but it can be an indication of authenticity on some social media platforms. 
  • Check the account’s name. If it is missing a letter, is misspelled, or substitutes letters for numbers, it could have been created to deceive viewers at first glance. 
  • If there is more than one result, check which account was created earlier and the number of followers each has. These are often good indicators of which is the genuine profile.
  • You can also look for which types of people engage with both accounts. If one is having their content shared, liked, or commented on by journalists, official bodies, or prominent people, it is more likely to belong to the public figure attached to it. 

Where can I find reliable information ahead of elections?

There are a number of ways that you can keep yourself informed in the run-up to the local elections. There are a lot of great local and national news organizations that will be closely covering the races and issues in your area. The key to being informed is to attempt to get your news from numerous sources and to do some research if you’re unsure about what you’re reading. You can also check whether a news outlet is covered by the Independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO), the U.K.’s press regulator. While no news organization is infallible, IPSO tries to hold its members to a set of minimum editorial standards. 

Beyond the media, you can choose to get information directly from candidates and political parties. This can be found on their official websites, social media channels, and campaign materials. This can be a great way to learn about the positions that candidates have, but it’s important to be aware that these are not unbiased sources.

To find practical guidance on how to vote, where your polling locations and who is standing in your area, you can visit the Electoral Commission’s website. To find up-to-date information on voting in your area, all you need to do is enter your postcode. 

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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