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If fake news is to be believed, Desmond Tutu has passed away, the EFF assaulted and shot Spur man, and Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump.

The phenomenon of fake news is no longer just an American issue but one that has also become rife in South Africa in the last year. Where do these stories come from? Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. These websites follow the same design as online news websites to give themselves a sense of legitimacy.

The issue of fake news was highlighted in the wake of the US election results, liberals realised that a series of misleading articles about Hillary Clinton run by numerous news sites may have contributed to Donald Trump’s victory.

South Africa has been more aggressive in responding to fake news stories. In recent cases, we’ve seen government departments issuing denials on certain stories involving government officials, and the IEC has opened a case with the police after a website published a story claiming that almost 100,000 local government election ballot papers had been found pre-marked with ANC votes. SAPS has also advised social media users not to interfere with criminal investigations by circulating fake news stories, as was the case with a certain image of a Lamborghini owner and his alleged connection with the airport heist earlier this month.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and Government have come out to express concern over the alarming trend of fake news websites, and have urged citizens to exercise caution when sharing news online as consumers may take the reports as the truth. The danger with fake news websites is that there is always an agenda, whether it be politically or financially motivated. Sharing and contributing to the spread or success of that website is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly in this post-truth era.

Examples of fake news sites:

The City Sun

Mzanzi Live

Here are a few points to check before you share the story or just to verify the story.

How to spot a fake news website:

  1. Check the URL and make sure it matches the name of the news page. Fake news sites can sometimes have numbers instead of letters to create confusion e.g. www.timeslive.co.za ; fake site: www.t1meslive.co.za
  2. Check the spelling of the account name, fake news accounts are often spelled incorrectly e.g. @Radio702, fake account: @Radioo702. Also, check the spelling in the headline or article itself – that is usually a big giveaway that it’s fake.
  3. Just Google it. Check if other reputable news sources are carrying the same stories.
  4. Check the comments below the article on Facebook to see if people point out that it is a fake article.
  5. With clicks comes profit; check if there is an unusual number of ads on the web page – with traffic to the site comes ad revenue.

Although Google and Facebook are taking steps to guard against or try to crack down on these fake sites, the responsibility still lies with each individual to share responsibility. As tedious as the task may seem, you can help to shape the media you want. Remember friends, don’t let friends share fake news.

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