How to spot fake news in a time of crisis

Hannah Gallop

Hannah Gallop


In times of crisis, we are inundated with information. It's everywhere. But unfortunately, not all of the information we consume is 100% accurate if we are receiving it from unreliable sources.

Information can sometimes be taken out of context or twisted to suit another purpose or misquoted altogether in a sort of 'Chinese whispers' effect as it makes its way from person to person, platform to platform. This can result in us sometimes consuming information that is incorrect in one way or another.

It can be easy to take information that we consume online at face value, but sometimes we may need to dig a little bit deeper to get the full story and correct information.

The rise of 'fake news'

Famously quoted by a particular US president, the term 'fake news' has been used more frequently in recent years to describe the creation and distribution of misleading news that holds little to no truth. As more fake news stories are published and shared across the internet, it can be difficult knowing what's true and what isn't.

As ownership of smartphones has increased to an almost complete global coverage, gone are the days of waiting for the morning news for breakfast stories or reading gossip magazines for the latest celebrity scandal. We now have all the information we need at the touch of an app and most people now receive their news information online, specifically from social media where a lot of fake news is circulated.

How to spot ‘fake news’

As of 2020, there are close to 1.8 billion websites in the world, many of which will be protected by free speech and anti-censorship laws which means that website owners can print anything they want, true or not. If you're unsure of the authenticity and reliability of a news piece and its source, here are some tips to explore this further:

Check the source - Investigate the site, its mission and its contact information. Check on official websites if stories are repeated there.Check the author - are they credible? Are they even real?

Check the date - sometimes old news stories may resurface and will not be relevant anymore. It’s also worth checking the dates attached to any studies and resources referenced within the article

Read beyond - headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What is the whole story?

Is it a joke? If it seems too outlandish, it might be a satire piece. Research the site and author.

Where to find reliable news

It can sometimes feel like a minefield. But we've put together a list of reliable sources for news and information.

BBC News

The BBC is recognised by audiences in the UK and around the world as a provider of trustworthy news across their website, and TV and radio services. Striving for journalism that is accurate, impartial, independent and fair, BBC News makes efforts to explain what type of information you are confusing, who and where the information is coming from, and how a story was crafted in the way it was.Tabloids including the Daily Mail (and its online version MailOnline), The Sun and Daily Mirror should not be used for determining notability and is generally a very unreliable source. Their use as a reference is generally prohibited.

Fact-checking websites

Fact-checking websites such as Full Fact and APFactCheck are independent fact-checkers and highlight common fake news stories. As they are impartial, they don’t take sides on any debates or support any political parties or campaigns.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

During world pandemics and crisis, WHO offer reliable advice, news and guidelines, and also any relating scam alerts. A specialised agency of the United Nations that is concerned with the international public health, WHO has position papers on virtually every health issue and its opinion is the consensus of medical experts around the world.


GOV.UK is the best place to find government services and information online. In the event of a pandemic or crisis, the website will be updated with information and services for UK citizens, detailed guidance for professionals and information on government and policy.

WhatsApp Fact Check

The Poynter Institute has launched a chatbot on WhatsApp that will allow its millions of users to debunk over 4,000 hoaxes that are surrounding the current crisis.The chatbot relies on information supplies by over 100 independent fact-checkers in more than 70 countries, and is the largest database of debunked misinformation related to COVID-19.

Whatsapp users can now debunk coronavirus related hoaxes with just a few messages on the messaging app.

Poynter Institute, a non-profit organisation, launched a bot that will allow people across the globe to debunk over 4,000 hoaxes surrounding the pandemic.— Barques (@Barques) May 5, 2020

Users can test the chatbot by either saving +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact number and texting the word “hi” or can alternatively click here.

We can all get caught out from time to time

Before circulating a piece of information, think twice about the messages and help guide your family and friends to decide what to trust.

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