Back to top

Fake news: how can we detect it?

Portàtil amb fake news

We get up in the morning and one of the first things we do is look at our smartphone or tablet. A few hours without a connection and we find ourselves with Twitter and Facebook notifications as well as from news apps, messages from friends, family, work, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal  ... 

Social networks ara gaining ground in traditional media

In fact, in Catalonia, almost half of Catalans prefer these channels to get informed; and among younger people, this percentage grows to 75%. The media, until now the leader in the provision of news, have been replaced by social networks, which provide us with a continuous and inexhaustible flow of information, seemingly neutral in tone. But is it really? 

Actually, we are all aware that is increasingly difficult to discern information from opinion or, simply, from lies. New concepts like alternative facts, post-truth, fake news, click baiting, hoaxes, spamming, filter bubbles, algorithms ... seem to be created specifically to hinder our access to truthful information. 

It's always been difficult to stay well-informed, but now it seems harder than ever

How do we know that what comes to our screen, probably in the hands of a person we know and trust, is reliable information or fake news? 

Icona d'una mà apuntant cap avall

In this section of th eduCAC website you will find ideas, tips and some of the resources available on the web to deal with fake news. You will also find a small glossary with some of the related terms and some journalistic initiatives that we consider to be relevant. 


First of all, we need time and distance. We live in a communicative context of immediacy that does not allow us to digest all the information we receive, especially as it is multiplied and amplified by social networks. Questioning the credibility of the information we consume requires, at minimum, a read-through that goes beyond the just headline, the summary and the photograph.   rellotge sorra

Recognisable media outlets, sources of information from authorities in the field, all the organisations that provide service information have accounts on social media. Following them and prioritising the information we receive from them is always a good idea (Mossos, Direcció General de Trànsit, 112, etc.).     

Let's not forget to follow our instinct, which help us to be alert: often at first glance we sense that behind a showy headline there are commercial or political interests, or that, simply, it is a joke or a hoax.  warning

If we are in doubt, there are others resources what we can consult

At first, contrasting with other sources of information is a quick way of verifying a news story. We have a plural communicative system and it would be very strange for a news story to be broadcast by a single media source and for no other source to echo it.  newspapers
We can also look at the website address where the information comes from: if we do not recognise it and/or we see an unfamiliar domain (each country has its own and in Catalonia the most common ones are .cat, .es, .com, .org, .eu, etc.)  maybe it is better not to click on the link.  puntcat
We must bear in mind that although news organisations generally responds to editorial due diligence (see journalistic ethics criteria), bloggers or YouTubers generally do not, as they are not subject to the same code of ethics. It is important to know how distinguish between information, marketing, propaganda, etc. (in the learning unit of eduCAC, Who do I trust you will find additional information).   marketing

Absurd or shocking headlines are usually a strategy to gain clicks (a technique known as click-bait), since the broadcaster obtains economic benefits from users clicking on links. Keep this in mind before clicking on such headlines. 

Similarly, there are satirical websites that look like news organisations and, if we only read the headline, we may be led to deception. If we do not know the website and it generate doubts, we can consult the legal notice at the bottom of all websites.   llufa

News stories that promise miraculous cures, warnings of planetary Les notícies que prometen cures miraculoses, alerten de desgràcies planetàries o de teories de la conspiració acostumen a ser dreceres a webs que inciten al consum de productes fraudulents i la informació sol estar falsejada. Abans de creure'ns la informació o de comprar el producte és millor consultar amb experts.  

We need to be careful about news that is disseminated and we help spread through messaging networks such as WhatsApp or Telegram and which does not come from known media organisations, as they are usually misleading. A clue: they are usually poor written and full of spelling mistakes. Before sharing them, think twice.   missatgeria

Sometimes fake news is fun and sharing it makes us feel good but it is better not to be complicit in its distribution. Some information can irreparably damage the prestige of people or institutions.  

Let's remember what we said before, stay well-informed at all costs. A healthy media diet should include obtaining information through various means (radio, television, press, internet) and the ability to compare ant contrast the news. With training and practice, we will incorporate tools that will help us interpret the information we consume in a critical way. Speaking with our family members can also be a good antidote to avoid swallowing lies or half-truths. 

Recordem el que hem dit abans, estar ben informat costa. Una dieta mediàtica sana hauria d'incloure l'obtenció de la informació a través de diversos mitjans (ràdio, televisió, premsa, internet) i la capacitat de contrastar les notícies. Amb la formació i la pràctica anirem incorporant eines que ens ajudaran a interpretar de forma crítica les informacions que rebem. Parlar-ne en família també pot ser un bon antídot per evitar empassar-nos mentides o mitges veritats.

AlgorithmWikipedia says algorithms are finite sets of instructions or steps that serve to execute a task or solve a problem. A concepte related to big data and the use of digital fingerprints that we leave when browsing the network. Algorithms have been accused of lack of transparency and neutrality.  You'll find more information here about the famous Google algorithm and how it works. You will also find an eduCAC learning unit dedicated to big data.     

Filter bubbles. It seems like a recent concept but it's been talked about for years. In short, the personalisation of the web, the result of the queries we send to Google (filtered according to our profile) and the intensive use of social networks all have consequences on our digital lives: we live in a bubble where our parallel reality becomes the only reality and it traps us in. There is a lot of literature about the subject and resources to tackle it. To learn about this topic, be sure to check out this TED talk by Eli Pariser or this other article by Carla Pedrett, "You live in a bubble and you do not kow it".  


Bombolles de filtres

Bot. This word usually appears associated with automated false profiles that generate responses on a repetitive basis, contributing and multiplying everything that circulates on the web, mainly for social networks. The Terminology Centre provides this definition: "a computer program that uses artificial intelligence techniques that allow it to interact with human beings and, in particular, perform tasks and responds to the questions posed by means of natural language.   

Deontological code. Declaration of principles of the journalistic profession in Catalonia. Available for consultation here

Clickbait. This is a technique that consists in writing headlines designed to attract attention, with spectacular information in order to obtain the largest number of clicks from users. In this way, websites get more visits, more advertising, and more economic benefits. This practice has made the genre of info entertainment more popular. This article by Àlex Gutiérrez (Ara Newspaper) and this morning podcast from Catalunya Ràdio give us some tools to confront it. 

Right to information. The Spanish Constitution establishes the right to communicate or freely receive truthful information by any means of dissemination. It is the basis of every democratic system.

Hate speech. Instigates violence, discrimination or hostility towards certain social groups. Social networks contribute to spread of prejudices, and many campaigns like this one try to fight it. 

Fact checker. A figure that some media organisations have to contrast and verify facts. Facts are objective while opinions must be free and diverse. The boom of fact checking or journalism of data verification has extended in parallel to the phenomenon of post-truth. There are fundamentally two types, the verification of statements of politicians in media declarations or the rumours or urban legends that circulate and become viral on the network. 

Fake news. This term helps us identify everything from the news that is completely false to news that has been falsified (that which connects real events to false contexts, manipulated content, etc.) False news responds to a political and/or economic intention. 

Fake news

Hoax. Tecnically, a hoax or false alarm is a message that warns of a virus or any other potential danger but that is not real, and aims to urge receivers to share it massively in order to collapse the network.

Citizen journalism. With a smarthpone in our pockets, without being journalism professionals, we can all play an active role in the development and dissemination of information. Whether it's because we have witnessed a specific news story or because we think about or report on it through a personal blog. Are we aware of the responsability we have? To learn more, eduCAC offers a learning unit that deals with this phenomenon. 

Postveritat. Té l'honor de ser la paraula de l'any 2016 segons el diccionari Oxford, que la defineix com el tipus d'informació on els fets objectius tenen menys influència que les crides a l'emoció i a les creences personals. Molt lligat també al concepte de "fets alternatius"

Pluralism. Verbal and objective information must give voice to multiple points of view and be respectful with political, social, and cultural pluralism. The Catalan Audiovisual Council is responsible for ensuring compliance with all the types of pluralism set forth in the regulations governing the audiovisual sector in Catalonia. Media users can file a complaint if we believe that these criteria are not being met. 

Editorial responsability. This is a requirement for those web pages that are the electronic version of pre-existing publications in other media, or those that, born on the web, have a headline and some content that makes them be perceived as a computer publications. 

Trol. And trolling. There are many trolls on social networks and they are not exactly the monsters of Scandinavian mythology. This noun is associated with all the profiles that are dedicated to making toxic comments or virtual communities. 



Portada de la revista Time dedicada a la postveritat

False news, the phenomenon of post-truth --and the connivance of journalism and politics that has been represented in some cases--, the need to constantly update digital front pages to keep up with the rapid pace of social networks and errors this may cause, etc., has sometides led to the practice of journalistic practices of dubious professionalismi, such as failure to verify sources and data that are inherent to this profession. 


All this has called into question the credibility of the journalistic profession, which has seen the need to recover its prestige, and the need to defend itself in order to bring truthful and proven information to the public. Thus, the figure of the fact-checker, data journalism, has acquired a new dimension, and lateyly there have been numerous initiatives carried out through websites dedicated to verifying the truthfulness of news.


Many of these websites are linked to prestigious press leaders, such as Les Décodeurs with Le Monde, Fact checker with The Washington Post o Reality check with The Guardian.

In Europe, the European Journalism Center has carried out several initiatives, such as the Verification Handbook, a document with resources so that journalists can unmask false news.

In Spain there are some private initiatives such as Maldito Bulo, a journalistic project that aims to give people resources in order to prevent them from being deceived by false information circulating through networks.

On the other hand, the Plataform for the Defence of Freedom of Information (PLDI), composed of organisations and individuals form different fields, presented a decalogue that aims to serve as the basis for agreeing on common strategies to combat the proliferation of false news and its effects.

Decàleg PDLI

In Catalonia, the College of Journalists dedicated in May of 2017 an entire issue of Capçalera magazine, "A lot of lies". You will find very interesting articles such as "Exhaustive Trolls", "Old Lies, New Context" o "Does Serious Journaling Matter?".  

Portada de la revista Capçalera dedicada a les notícies falses

Catalan public television also dedicates and has dedicated numerous spaces to explain this phenomenon, from news articles to specific reports. Below are just a few:   

Sense ficció: Veritats de mentida

Veritats de mentida


TN Vespre: Què és la post-truth?

Què és la posttruth?


Quan arribin els marcians: No és innocent, és fals

Quan arribin els marcians


Mon 324: és Rússia una màquina de fake news

Mon 324


As we have seen, the problem of false news has become relevant in recent years, because of its implications at all levels. For this reason, some EU countries and also the European Union have decided to try to regulate this situation, in different ways. In  many cases, these regulations have raised criticism and suspicion among the journalistic profession, because they think that any regulation in this sense may imply restrictions of the freedom of information and expression and the right to information. We will have to wait to see how progress in made in this regard. From eduCAC we will be sure to keep you informed!