How to spot fake news

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Last weekend I got a flurry of queries from colleagues seeking to confirm if I knew an IT student from Multimedia University who had allegedly hacked into some mobile money financial applications and wiped out loan balances of customers.

Before that, there was another story doing rounds about another University of Nairobi IT student who allegedly hacked into the Huduma Namba system and wiped out critical records collected during the ongoing registration process.

With the proliferation of all manner of digital platforms that make up the social media, fake news is spreading faster than real news.

Supported by modern sophisticated technologies made simple, any Wanjiku, Wafula or Otieno can generate fakes that look very realistic and with a click of a button send them out to millions of recipients.

The following three basic rules can help you figure out the authenticity of the articles you get in your social media accounts:

Rule No 1:  Cross check the source

Many fake news items claim to originate from mainstream social media accounts. For example, some one may crop the verified @Dailynation official twitter handle below and then paste or replace the official content with their own fake news before sending out to their followers. The followers will quickly conclude that the content is officially coming from the Nation Media group since the account is ‘verified’.

However, when in doubt, the user should simply go to the official Twitter or Facebook accounts and crosscheck to see if the story is actually listed on the official sites as claimed by the fake news peddler.

Rule no2: Validate the source

Many fake websites and social media accounts have been deliberately set up to sound or look like their authentic counterpart. Someone can, for example, simply set up a website called (with an ‘s’)  in order to look like the official website (without the ‘s’).

They would then proceed to load the fake website or Facebook account with the same fake news they may have posted on Twitter or other social accounts in anticipation of tricking those who will try and cross-check the fake news.

Creating websites with similar sounding names is a problem that goes beyond fake news and affects other sectors particularly in the financial sector where hackers trick users to enter their online banking details into fake websites.

One easy way to identify a real website from a fake one is to check for the ‘padlock’ icon before the website’s address (see below).

cropped out image of the top section of the

cropped out image of the top section of the Nation website home page.

Please note that the padlock icon would only apply where companies have taken the necessary steps to secure their website identities – something that any  serious company would do.

Rule no 3: Have other mainstream media outlets run the story?

Whereas many online bloggers have earned the reputation for breaking authentic news before the mainstream media does, they do not have rigorous internal verification mechanisms that are common and traditionally exercise in main stream media.

So it never hurts to wait for a few minutes to see if other media outlets catch up with whatever sizzling news that your online blogger is spinning out. The general rule is that if two or more independent media outlets are carrying the story, then most likely it is real rather than fake news.

Fake news generators are always coming up with new ideas to side step the above counter measures. So the best way to stay ahead of the game is to ensure that you stay abreast with new developments in the increasingly more sophisticated cyber space.

But for now, do not pass on fake news that fails any of the above simple rules. Instead spot and call out the fake news and help arrest its spread.

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