Fake news: What is it? And how to spot it

Last updated at 08:30
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Lots of us like to share things on social media or talk to our friends about things we've seen online, but do you always make sure it's true before you share it?

Many of us like to share news and stories on social media with our friends.

We all share things for different reasons. Perhaps it's an interesting story, news about a celebrity that you like, or something that made you laugh.

But when you see something you like online, do you check to make sure that it's true before you share it?

Not everything that we read or see on the internet is true - and if it isn't, and we share it, we could be making more people believe something that is actually made up.

Stories like this are called fake news and they can be a problem.

What is fake news?

Fake news is news or stories on the internet that are not true.

There are two kinds of fake news:

  1. False stories that are deliberately published or sent around, in order to make people believe something untrue or to get lots of people to visit a website. These are deliberate lies that are put online, even though the person writing them knows that they are made up.
  2. Stories that may have some truth to them, but they're not completely accurate. This is because the people writing them - for example, journalists or bloggers - don't check all of the facts before publishing the story, or they might exaggerate some of it.

It is happening a lot at the moment, with many people publishing these stories in order to get as many shares as possible.

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Fiona Rutherford, BuzzFeed News reporter, on avoiding Fake News (February 2017)

Now that we have social media, it is much easier for these stories to spread quickly, which can be a problem.

It is also easier than it used to be to edit photos, and create fake websites and stories that look realistic.

Why is it a problem?

Fake news is a problem for different reasons.

The first kind of fake news - deliberate lies - is a problem because it can make people believe things that are completely untrue.

The second kind - when people publish something without checking that it's completely right - can make people have less trust in the media, as well as make everyone believe something that might be inaccurate.

People also only tend to share things that they agree with. So if people are sharing a lot of fake news, and lots of people believe it, it's easy to get sucked into a bubble that is actually completely different to the real world - and a long way from the truth.

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If you're sure if a story is accurate or not, speak to an adult you trust about it
When is fake news not fake news?

Sometimes, a story might be called fake news (when actually it isn't) by someone, or a group of people, who don't want to accept that the news is true - even if it might be.

They will tell people that a story is fake, just because they don't want it to be true.

Some people will call things fake news, when really they just have a different opinion.

Calling something fake news, when it isn't really, is a problem as it can mean some people don't know what to believe anymore.

Why are we talking about it?

Fake news has become a big issue recently - especially following the US election.

One of the most shared stories during the US election was about Donald Trump, who is now president of the US.

Donald TrumpAFP/Getty Images
One of the most shared stories during the US election about Donald Trump turned out to be completely fake

Many people reported that he had called his own Republican voters "the dumbest group of voters in the country". But he never even said it.

There were also lots of fake news stories written about his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Some people say that fake news stories can have an effect on how people vote, which - if true - is also a serious problem.

As a result of the rise of fake news, the UK Parliament launched an investigation into it.

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Newsround spoke to Damien Collins, who leads the group of Members of Parliament investigating fake news (February 2017)

The group behind the investigation looked at where fake news comes from, how it spreads and what impact it has.

It particularly wanted to look at the effect - if any - that fake news can have on important political decisions, like elections.

How to spot fake news

If you want to try to make sure that you don't get caught out by fake news, there a few things you can look out for.

Ask yourself:

  • Has the story been reported anywhere else?
  • Is it on the radio, TV or in the newspapers?
  • Have you heard of the organisation that published the story?
  • Does the website where you found the story look genuine? (meaning it doesn't look like a copycat website that's designed to look like another genuine website)
  • Does the website address at the very top of the page look real? Is the end of the website something normal like '.co.uk' or '.com', and not something unusual, like 'com.co'?
  • Does the photo or video look normal?
  • Does the story sound believable?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no', you might want to check it out a bit more, before spreading the word.

If you're at all unsure, speak to an adult that you trust about the story to find out a bit more about it.