It is so that, especially during the past few weeks, one is bombarded by news on the Coronavirus whenever one opens the Facebook app on your smartphone. In fact, I can’t think of any other news that I’ve recently come across. Not only does the Coronavirus spread globally, it leaves no free space in the digital world either.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, precisely because there is a great need for information during a crisis. The problem, however, is that while so much information is available it becomes all the more difficult to distinguish between what is true and what is not true. False or inaccurate news is generally known as fake news.
It is the responsibility of each one of us to make sure we do not spread fake news, all the more so during the Coronavirus pandemic. Fake news exposes people to wrong information which could be dangerous for a number of reasons.
Suppose you share a miracle cure that would supposedly destroy the virus (note there is currently no cure) and a friend or a family member already infected by the virus follows the advice mentioned in the fake news article. The consequences could be catastrophic and may even cause further damage. Then there is also news that makes people panic, leading to unnecessary and hasty decisions. Just think about the global toilet paper crisis. So, think before you share!
How do I know whether an article is fake news or not?
According to Reint Dykema, a content manager at AfriForum, there are ten things to look out for before deciding whether news is true or false.
He lists the following ten things you should be on the lookout for to establish whether news is fake news or true:
Look at the website’s visual appearance. Do the website, photos and headings look professional or amateurish?
Do you see a list of articles that appear right at the bottom of the website that encourage you to click on them? Many websites make money through the number of clicks generated and they love to post stories with headings and graphics that entice you to click on them. Parts of the story may be true. So, read past the heading that is enticing and look at the content.
Note the date of the article. Many of the articles are ancient but get a second breath on social media.
Take note of the article’s URL. If it ends strangely, for example on a .LO of or on a .com.co, it can be assumed that something might not be kosher.
Sometimes an article is deliberately satirical or wants to be over the top so it will be read more.
Look at what is quoted as the news source for the stories. In Afrikaans, be on the lookout for Maroela Media, Netwerk24or other known news sources. In English be on the lookout for News24,IOL, SABC or ANA.
The existing media in South Africa is generally credible. Given the new demand to compete with the speed of social media, errors do creep into articles though.
Is there a copyright protection on the article?
Sometimes you are required to first register before you can read a story. Ask “Why”.
3. Look at the ending of the website domain. Sometimes it gets a .com at the end to mimic other existing websites. If it has a .co.za domain, go to http://co.za/whois.shtmlto see in whose name the domain is registered and for how long it has belonged to the current owner.
Beware of Facebook and Twitter shares and articles without a link to a credible source.
Pay attention to the website’s “Contact us” section. Reliable websites are not shy to provide detailed contact information.
Often in the case of fake news the name of the journalist/author is not provided. If a name does appear, have a look at other stories by the same journalist. Also have a look at the journalist’s Twitter profile and whether the person is actively following news events.
The journalist/author must therefore be a real person (not a pseudonym) and must have previously written credibly on a number of other topics.
In what style is the article written? Fake news loves to promote only one side of a matter, sometimes making outrageous assumptions or it is very emotional in nature. Is the article balanced?
Does the article’s content correspond with what you already know about a topic?
Does the information in the article make sense?
Look at the graphics and photos used in the article. Then do a Google search for similar photos and see whether they are used in other stories too.
Do misspellings occur in the article or are capital letters used unnecessarily? Is the article’s grammar up to standard?
Have a look at the sources and the quotes used in the article. Do the sources correspond with similar articles?
If links are provided with the sources, do consult the sources.
Consult similar articles and determine whether facts and sources correspond.
Also examine your personal prejudice about a topic and whether it is influencing you.
Think critically about the article. Also, read up more about a topic.
Can I get myself into trouble when I create or spread fake news?
The regulations under the Disaster Management Act which were published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday make provision for the prosecution of people who create or spread fake news about Covid-19.
Prosecution includes fines or even imprisonment of up to six months. These regulations will apply specifically to those who create fake news about Covid-19 but also apply to those who spread such news via social media and other channels.
Liability to prosecution also applies to any person who intentionally pretends to have infected any other person with the virus.
The new regulations also impose severe penalties for persons who intentionally expose others to the virus.
A person who is guilty of the deliberate spread of Covid-19 can face charges of assault, attempted murder or even murder.
The regulations also prohibit an infected person, or a person suspected of being infected from refusing to be examined, isolated or quarantined.
If you suspect that you are infected with the coronavirus, please use the following avenues available to you:
The coronavirus hotline: 0800 029 999 from 08:00 to 16:00, Monday to Friday