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Your How-To Guide to Telling Fact From Falsehood – Lau Joon-Nie

With so much information flooding our feeds, it's vital to identify fake news and avoid hoaxes. Lau Joon-Nie shares her tips.

Why news literacy is in the spotlight

As a reporter and Distance Learning Manager at Europe's World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Joon-Nie finds it alarming how fake news has become so prevalent online.

“We now live in an age of distributed content, where anyone can circulate news, whether true or false, over social media and chat apps,” said this news veteran. She highlighted the fact that established news organisations are now competing against "non-news industry players," who do not have to live with the consequences of forsaking accuracy for speed. Even more sinister are the 'news sites' that generate falsehoods for the clicks – and subsequent advertising revenue.

“They are in the business of fabrication – false content created as clickbait that readers will share and make viral, which leads to increased ad revenue... Some of these hoax websites are even more popular than genuine news sites,” said Joon-Nie.

Verifying information – journalist-style

Joon-Nie has the following advice if you want to avoid falling for fake news. Basically, read like a journalist would.

“Journalists maintain a healthy skepticism over the information they come across. There is a hierarchy of verification,” said Joon-Nie. This means that they evaluate the source of the information as follows:

  • Is it first-hand and directly from an involved party?
  • Or is it an indirect 'heard-from-a-rumour' type of information.
  • In every case, is there corroborating information from another independent source?
Tell-tale signs to identify fake news:
  • Check the source of the information: Is it a reputable news organisation, or some obscure site you have never heard of?
  • Check the website's “About” section and evaluate if it's credible.

    Above: An actual screenshot from Channel NewsAsia's 'About Us' webpage.

  • Look out for wrong spelling and bad grammar – unlike credible news organisations, most fake news sites have terrible quality control and simply push out stories to garner clicks.
  • Try to discern whether the site is an entertainment or satire site whose stories are not meant to be taken seriously.

    Above: A screenshot from the 'About Us' webpage from an actual European satirical news website. Note that it implicitly declares that its contents are non-factual and made-up.

  • Evaluate whether the site seems to have any particular agendas, biases or propaganda in how they present their stories. Chances are that such sites are not completely credible.

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