The realistic impact that news and information have on people and even market trends have been firmly established by a number of academic journals and it cannot be overemphasized. However, in this era of new media and due to technological advancements in the communication process which has made it overly simple for any well-crafted information to pass as news (supposedly intended to inform the public), it is very easy to get misinformed in the course of being informed. This is because fake news and newsworthy information are easily comingled with the real and true ones nowadays and it takes a sternly curious and interrogative mind to spot the difference.
There is no doubt that until a veritable and conclusive solution is provided to totally eradicate fake news, it remains an existential threat and a disruption to the social, political, and economic fabric of any society.
In this article, readers will be exposed to some online tools and human techniques that can detect fake news in order to always get accurately informed when consuming news or information online. Also discussed in this article is how lawyers can leverage on these tools in the course of practice.
3 Online Tools to Detect Fake News
Here are three online tools to detect fake news online:
Google Fact Check Explorer
This is a Google online tool to fact-check claims made in a news story or information to establish whether the claim has been debunked or not by any authoritative entity. It enables a user to type a keyword or phrase relating to any claim to be fact-checked into its Explorer Search Box, and click the search button to return results of whether the claim is true or not as investigated and published by specialized fact-checking publishers/websites that have already met Google’s Guidelines of fact-checks publishing.
With this tool, it is just a click away to separate fact from fiction in any news or disseminated information that seems questionable, lacks balance or objectivity in its reporting.
Google Fact Check Explorer and can be accessed using a browser on both computer and mobile phones with internet connection.
Botometer is an online machine learning tool used to detect social bots that pose deceptively as real human beings on Twitter. It is an innovation jointly brought about by “the Observatory on Social Media (OSoMe), the Network Science Institute (IUNI), the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research (CNetS), and the Media School at Indiana University.”
Social Bots can be imposingly deceptive, masquerading as software agents that act as real persons, communicate, and engage independently on social media with partial or minimal human control via algorithms. Although, some of them are harmless and can in fact be used for ancillary actions online.
Since it is pretty much easy to open a Twitter account and spread information (fake or not) on the platform to a large number of Twitter users using the Twitter trending tag, the platform has become a veritable avenue (for mischief makers, fame or influence chasing individuals or fake news purveyors) to create and use social bots (also called Twitter bots) to spread inaccurate or unbalanced news/information to unsuspecting readers/consumers in order to skew public opinion or conversation in a particular direction.
However, with the Botometer machine learning tool, a Twitter account holder – upon using his/her Twitter account to receive Twitter permission and authentication – can in a matter of minutes investigate a Twitter account’s activities that can potentially be Bot-like and instantly know whether to trust the account and its engagements or not. This is done using the Botometer website i.e., to check the activity of a Twitter account by inputting the account’s handle in the “@ScreenName” box on the webpage and then click the “Check User” button. The machine conducts a search momentarily and returns a score between the scale of 1 to 5 – the higher the returned score, the more likely the Twitter account is a Twitter Bot.
Unlike the above mentioned tools, InVID WeVerify is a plug-in fake news debunker browser extension that searches and provides a quick “contextual information” and analysis about an image or video that one comes across on social networks (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube) to determine the veracity of the digital content. It is an innovative project of AFP Medialab, developed under the “Horizon 2020 European Union (EU) innovation action WeVerify” project.
This browser extension plug-in, which is commonly referred to as a “Swiss army knife” for its users, has embedded in it a variety of online tools ranging from Google, Yandex, Bing, Tineye, Google Lens, Bing, Baidu, Karma Decay (for Reddit) and Database of Known Fakes DBKF (beta) that can be used to perform image or video reverse search and forensic analysis of an image to establish if the image was manipulated or not – by showing similar ones as well as providing contextual information/analysis that ultimately makes it easier to distinguish between the fake or manipulated image and the original one. The browser extension plug-in works with Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers.
Armed with InVID WeVerify plug-in extension while browsing social media or YouTube, it is just a right-click away on that image or video to verify its authenticity.
The Human Techniques to Detect Fake News
Ultimately, the human objective consciousness is the most important tool in detecting fake news when surfing the internet. Listed and briefly discussed below are useful techniques that can be employed by social media users (as advised by Facebook) to detect fake news/information on the platform and the internet generally.
- Be sceptical of headlines: False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation marks. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
- Look closely at the link: A phony or lookalike link may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the link. You can go to the site to compare the link to established sources.
- Investigate the source: Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organisation, check their “About” section to learn more.
- Watch out for unusual formatting: Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
- Consider the photos: False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
- Inspect the dates: False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
- Check the evidence: Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
- Look at other reports: If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources that you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
- Is the story a joke? Sometimes, false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humour or satire. Check if the source is known for parody and if the story’s details and tone suggest that it may be just for fun.
- Some stories are intentionally false: Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.”
How Lawyers can Leverage on the Online Tools for Detecting Fake News
Lawyers often embark on varieties of research during the pre-trial stage in order to get solidly and adequately prepared for their case in court. This ranges from legal to procedural, statutory and fact-finding researches. When doing the latter, all the online tools discussed above can become purposefully useful where relevant. For instance, in a libel case, a counsel for a defendant can be guided by the use of the Google Fact-Check Explorer tool that establishes or finds out that the statement in the publication under reference is actually true – having been authoritatively confirmed by a relevant authoritative person or entity (as discovered by the fact checking tool), or that by reason of the available facts provided by the fact checking tool which profoundly supports and confirms the published statement to be factual – the said publication is hence not libelous.
Also, in an intellectual property rights matter where a person’s original digital graphical property is mischievously manipulated and used like the original one, counsel in proving his/her client’s case can utilize InVID WeVerify plug-in browser extension to conduct a forensic image reverse search of the image under reference which result can serve as a guide in establishing and proving that his/her client is the original owner of the graphical image.
The online tools discussed in this article may seem like a magic wand to spot false information online (especially on social networks). However, it remains true that the most reliant and dependable way to decipher factual and accurate news/information among the myriads of mixed, fake and real ones churned out every day is by employing both human techniques and the online tools to fact-check information before believing or acting on it.
For further information on this article and area of law, please contact Yakub Abiola Hammed at S.P. A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos by:
Telephone (+234 1 472 9890), Fax (+234 1 4605092)
Mobile (+234 705 828 2258)
Email: [email protected]