How To Detect Incorrect Information Online
We’ve all seen it – an article or meme in your timeline or news feed that looks crazy or incredible. The thing is, there is a lot of misinformation these days. So if an assertion or ‘fact’ is too good to be true, or if it upsets you, it can be untrue or misleading. But there is good news: you have tools that you can use to sort out wrong information and identify what is real and what is false. Incorrect information is not only annoying, it can be dangerous. But by identifying it, you can help stop its spread.
wikiHow and the Verified Nations Verified Initiative have teamed up to give you some important tips to verify what you see online and stop the spread of misinformation.
Keep quiet and be skeptical about new information. When you come across an article or share information that you have not seen before, you should consider it. Do not just browse by accepting it as a fact or sharing the information without being skeptical at first.
- This is good to doubt! It is better to research information to make sure it is legal before distributing it.
- Incorrect information can be harmful, especially when it comes to something serious like COVID-19.
Verify the source and date of the information. Look for the information at the source to see if it was published there. Check the date of the article or information to make sure it is current and still accurate. Usually, the date is next to the author of the article.
- For example, if you see a quote or a report that says a certain news organization published an article about a recent terrorist attack, look it up on the news organization’s official website to see if they really did.
- The date can really be a big issue. For example, an article talking about new coronavirus cases over 6 months ago may not be accurate right now.
- You can check image dates by doing a reverse image search on Google or Bing. Drag the image into the search box, then click the search button. The image metadata will also indicate when the image was created.
See if you can know who the original author is. Find out who wrote the information by looking up the article or searching for their name. See if the author is an expert or a journalist who regularly discusses the topic, to make sure he knows what he is talking about.
- If an article or information does not mention the author, it is a sign that it may be false or misleading information.
- For example, an article on health and wellness wrote by a registered doctor is more credible than one without an author.
Search online for information in other sources. Search the claim or information online to see if other news outlets or organizations are saying similar things. If only 1 place reports something, it is a sign that the information may be false or misleading.
- For example, if you see an article about a wildfire in the rainforest, search online or other outlets cover it as well to verify it.
Look out for information that triggers a strong emotional response. The wrong information is often designed to make you feel angry, sad, scared, or just plain old upset. Be careful if you spot a claim, article, headline, or any other information that causes you to feel a super-strong emotion. This could be a sign that it’s fake and is designed to get a response from you.
- For example, if you come across a headline that says, ‘NEW LAW RETURNS PETS’ PUPPIES ‘, it’s probably untrue or at least misleading.
Read the text for sensational language or loaded terms. Good quality information will be presented professionally and use clear, direct language. When you come across new information, read it carefully and keep an eye on the language designed to make you feel about the subject in a certain way.
- For example, a good quality news article might say something like “authorities do not know exactly what caused the accident and are still investigating”, while a shady or misleading source might say something like: “politician without idea knows what the accident is caused and probably will never notice. ”
- Also, watch for offensive or offensive language.
Check any quotes to see if they are accurate. There are many memes out there that contain a quote that is attributed to a specific person. Do the quoting through an internet search to find out who the real author is. If it does not match the meme, it is probably incorrect information.
- For example, if you see a meme that says, ‘All cars should be hybrid by 2021’ and it is attributed to the Department of Transportation, you should use it safely and perform through an internet search to see if it is true.
- If a meme makes a claim and it is not supported by any source, it can be false or misleading.
Find the claim on a fact-checking website. Every time you come across a claim or information in a meme, infographic, or image, try to look up the terms on a fact-checking website to see if they have been dealt with there. Read the description on the website to determine if the claim is true or misleading.
- For example, if you see a meme that says the government is sending citizens to Mars, see if a fact-checking website supports the claim.
- Find a list of fact-checking sites here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fact-checking_websites
- Not every mom or claim shared on the internet and social media are covered by a fact-checking website, but it is still a great place to check.
Zoom in on an image for tips on the actual location. Use clues on photos and images to determine if the information you are requesting is accurate. Zoom in closely and look for details like the language on street signs, license plates on cars, flags in the background, or any other clues that tell you where the photo or picture is coming from. If the alleged information does not match the location, it could be a false claim.
- For example, if a meme or image mentions a street in Los Angeles but shows the photo on Italian street signs or a vehicle with a license plate that is not from the US, it is probably incorrect information.
Do a reverse image search to find out when it first appeared on the internet. With search engines like Google and Bing, you can paste the URL of an image to find out where and when it was first placed. If this is a very old image that is being circulated as if it were new, then this is incorrect information. You can also know where the image originally came from, which can tell you if it matches the information.
- So if you see a meme or image that is claimed to be an alien spaceship, you can do a reverse image search. If it appears to be the image from 5 years ago or if it was originally posted on a satire website, it may not be accurate.
- Use a tool like RevEye to search for past cases, or an image will appear online to see if it is used to drive a false narrative.
Look up the username of an account for random letters and numbers. Although it is not a sure-fire test, it could be a sign that it was generated by a computer program if the user’s handle or screen name contains a random series of letters and numbers. Look for the profile name of the person posting the information to see if it looks fishy.
- This is especially sketchy when there is a random series of letters or numbers in the handle of a famous person or politician. For example, if ‘TomHanks458594’ posts something, it could be a fake account or a bot.
- Remember, this is not a dead giveaway, but it could be a sign that an account is not legal.
Read the account bio to see if it matches the user’s activity. Most social media accounts have a small bio section where the user contains information about themselves or a brief description. Look at the biography to see if it matches the person and the content they share. If this does not seem possible, it could be a fake account.
- For example, if an account shares a lot of articles about crime and violence, but the bio claims it’s about peace and love, it can be sly.
- Also, use your common sense. Does the account feel fake? Bone accounts try to look good, but there’s something that looks good to you. Trust your gut.
Find out when the account was created. Some social media platforms include the date an account was created on the profile page. Find out if it was made very recently. If it were, it could be a fake account being generated to spread misinformation.
- For example, if the account was created two months ago and shares nothing but outrageous claims, it could be a fake account.
Do a reverse image search on the profile photo to see if it is fake. Use a search engine like Google or Bing to upload the profile photo for an image search. If it’s a stock image or the photo does not match the person claiming the profile, it could be a fake or a bot.
- Stock photos are a great idea that the profile is not a real person.
- A profile photo of a celebrity, cartoon, or any non-human image means that a profile is anonymous and less reliable.
Check the activity of the user to see if it is suspicious. Look at the timeline of the profile. If they include posts at all times of the day, from different parts of the world, and polarizing political content tweeted from other accounts, it could be a bot or fake account.
- For example, if the profile is constantly posted 24 hours a day, it could be a bot.