The internet has largely delivered on its promise to revolutionise the way we access information and news in general.

 

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the rise of fake news websites, as people share these stories without question.

South Africa has seen a sharp rise in the number of fake news websites in the last year, promoting stories ranging from humorous, sensational, and biased, to just plain propaganda.

SEE ALSO: The rise of fake news and click bait… and how we end it.

Were these sites to be believed, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela would have been shot nine times, thousands of ballot papers marked with ANC votes would have been found during elections, and the DA would have cut free township Wi-Fi in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The newest being Wayde Van Niekerk who “apparently” signed a lifetime deal with Nike amounting to a little over R400 000 000 000. We think the real news here would be if JZ or anyone else, could pronounce that!

These stories are just a few which have gone viral, as shocked or outraged Facebook users are duped into sharing the links.

The question on many people’s lips is: what is the agenda? Most of the sites are teeming with adverts, so clickbait is certainly one answer.

It doesn’t have to be this way though, as there are a few things to keep in mind before sharing that article…

1. First, do no harm

Before you even start debunking, make sure you are not sharing false rumors yourself. Avoid becoming one of the thousands who give credence to a false tweet by retweeting it.

2. Check the source.

Be wary of stories linked to sites ending in “.ru” or “.co” or other unfamiliar domain names—especially if they are linked to a more reputable site, like NBC news, says Joel Kilpatrick, founder of Lark News, a satire site.

Those domains—as well as new ones like .market—are clues that a site may not be what it appears. Other sites may try to trick you by misspelling a respected news outlet’s name or leaving out a letter or two.

3. Keep a mental list of fake news and satire websites.

Most people know that The Onion, despite being “America’s Finest News Source” is fake. But it still fools social media users. Less well known are the Daily Currant, LovethatNews.com, DuffleBlog, National Report, and World News Daily Report, which had its own fake “pastor arrested for turning down gay wedding” story this week.

The people who run these sites want to tell you just enough truth to fool you, at least for a moment, and to have a good laugh with you. Or at you.

4. Google!

Publications live and die in breaking the news, but it’s worth Googling the story for other websites saying the same thing. Even if it’s breaking news, sources will pick up on it quickly & there should be a few sites carrying the same or similar content.

5. If its making you angry… its probably not real!

Ever read a story that really made you mad? Or that seemed to tap into your innermost insecurity or fear? Maybe it was about the government secretly spying on you. Don’t automatically believe what you just read and pass it on. Many false news stories purposely play on our fears and anxieties, knowing that doing so will make people follow their emotions and not their brains.

6. Check Snopes and other hoax-busting websites

The most prominent debunking website around, Snopes is devoted to verifying the accuracy of popular stories and tales, giving it a true or false stamp (and everything in between).

7. Check the other stories from the website

The list of fake websites is by no means exhaustive, and new ones open up every week. So how can you tell if a site is reliable if it’s not on any list of fake websites?

One way is to do a quick scan of some of the headlines and first few paragraphs of other stories on the site. For instance, the story that popped up onto the newsfeeds about Wayde van Niekerk getting a Nike endorsement, also had articles in the sidebar for Usain Bolt being disqualified and Oscar Pistorius being shot in prison. Red flags right there…

8. Check the user comments

Ever since the “letters to the editor” page in newspapers (and most likely before that), readers have been relied upon to offer corrections.

Physical letters might not be as popular anymore, but readers are still there. So check comments on the article or on the social media post for any valuable corrections.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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