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Misinformation: NewsGuard help us understand the risks and how to tackle them

A photograph of a stack of newspapers

The Internet provides us with many opportunities to explore our interests and learn new information online. Many people use the Internet as a source of news and information in their day-to-day activities. But how do we know that we can trust the news and information that we read? We spoke to NewsGuard about how you can spot misinformation in news and tell fact from fiction.

Join us to explore the topic further and get one year’s free access to NewsGuard’s browser extension by attending our free online digital skills session: Understanding and protecting yourself from misinformation online with NewsGuard at 10am on the 19th of April. Register here.

What does NewsGuard do?

“NewsGuard is an internet trust tool that helps keep people, brands, and democracies safe from the threats of misinformation. Our team of journalists rate the credibility of news and information sites based on nine apolitical criteria, which you can read more about here. We investigate things such as whether the site regularly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects and clarifies errors, and whether it clearly labels advertising. Alongside our Source Reliability ratings, we publish a Nutrition Label for each site. This is a write-up which justifies why we have given a site the score we have. This further context on a site enables people to make more informed decisions about how they engage with it.”

What is misinformation?

“Misinformation is false or inaccurate information, and unfortunately, it is widespread online. Sometimes it comes about due to poor journalistic practice, and other times it arises due to bad faith actors who intend to deceive internet users.”

What could happen if you don’t safeguard against misinformation?

“If misinformation goes unchecked, it can have serious implications for our understanding and evaluation of news and events, and result in severe real-world consequences for our own health and broader society. For example, during the pandemic, the surge in health misinformation contributed to mistrust in official health bodies like the NHS, which undermined public health efforts to combat the spread of the virus, and ended up putting more lives at risk. Another example comes from a NewsGuard investigation which exposed networks of partisan media outlets masquerading as local news sites, many of which were spreading false narratives around the U.S. midterm elections.”

Who is most at risk?

“It is likely that we have all come across misinformation online at some point. However, research suggests that the elderly are particularly vulnerable. They are disproportionately more likely to share and receive fake news, and they tend to be more trusting and less cynical about the news they read online. However, because they were raised before the 24/7 online news cycle and therefore were not consuming news on a continuous basis all day, they are often better at pausing before making judgments about news source credibility or claim trustworthiness than younger people, who are more accustomed to instantly accessing information and refreshing news platforms and apps. As the population ages, it is critical that we equip older adults with the tools that they need to bolster their resilience against misinformation.”

Do you have any tips for spotting misinformation online, and where can people go to learn more?

“It is important to be mindful when coming across an unfamiliar source of information online. You should question what sources the article is citing, whether what you’re reading is presented as fact or opinion, and you should try to corroborate the information in the article with information from other sources that you recognise as being trustworthy.

“A useful exercise is “lateral reading”, which involves simultaneously reading about the source of information you are consuming, as well as the article on the source itself. For instance, if you have NewsGuard’s browser extension downloaded, this could look like reading a site’s Nutrition Label review and learning about its journalistic standards, alongside reading the article on the site itself. Lateral reading helps you think critically about the quality of a source, and can guide your evaluation of whether a site is trustworthy and worth reading or sharing.

“The NewsGuard browser extension can be a useful tool in helping you discern the credibility of a news source. It gives users access to our Source Reliability ratings, which account for 95% of engagement with news and information online in the U.K., as well as in our other geographies across North America, Europe, and in Australia and New Zealand. With it you can access our Nutrition Labels, which justify why we have given each site the rating that we have. You can download our browser extension here.”