Fact or Fake News? Can you trust everything you read online?

It’s easy to tell the difference between a real news story and a made up one, right? Maybe not.

In the past, watching the news on TV; reading a newspaper and listening to the radio were the only ways to stay up to date with what was going on in the world – and we would always rely on these sources telling the truth about events. Now, through social media we receive news at the tips of our fingers often in ‘real time’, but we cannot always rely on this news being as truthful.

Broadcasters like Newsbeat or Sky have staff who  check the facts in their news stories. But anyone can write news articles and share them on social media- this has led to the phenomenon called ‘fake news’.  And it’s not just the ‘news’ that people can lie about, there have also been reports of people setting up fake online funding pages for victims of crime when in fact they are just pages to trick people into giving money.

Fake news can describe news stories that are completely made up- “WOMAN GIVES BIRTH TO A 4 STONE BABY!” But ‘fake news’ also describes news stories that have some truth in them as well as some lies - these are harder to spot! Watch this video to see how a group young people got on when they were challenged to spot fake news stories.

Some types of fake news can look real and this can make us think they’re true. In some cases people can take a popular newspaper logo and place it on a fake news story to make it look genuine.  In other cases, like the example above, fake news may be  easier to spot. Most of the  time, fake news stories have a mix of truth and lies to make the whole story seem more believable.

So why do people share fake news?

People can share fake news by accident. You might think that a story is  true and want to show your friends . Other people write fake news on purpose to try and make a story more popular.

Some education experts are calling for young people to be taught how to spot ‘fake news’. Teachers say they are seeing examples of ‘fake news’ in pupils homework. This is concerning as it shows that young people may be finding it hard to spot the difference between truth and lies online, and may be assuming that anything they read online is real . Teachers have said that young people should be given help to avoid doing this, and teaching them how to spot fake news is as important as teaching them maths and science. What do you think?

If you share a news story, check first whether it is real,  as sharing fake news – intentionally or unintentionally – can mean that other people will believe something that’s made up. And if we continue to share and believe news that is fake, what could the consequences be? When thinking about whether a story is fake news or not, it might be worth asking yourself a few questions: Have I seen this story anywhere else on the TV or radio? Is the source an organisation I recognise? If you share a fake story as a joke, remember that not everyone who sees it will be able to tell the difference.  For more tips on how to spot fake news, click here.