How You Can Protect Yourself From Fake News and Websites; A Short Guide

Quadri Yahya & Mustapha Lawal

Edited by Habeeb Adisa

A volunteer fact-checker with ROUNDCHECK, Peace Oladipo had mixed feelings while working on a suspicious website for the first time. Skepticism swayed Peace to reach out to a fellow fact-checker for guidance, asking if she will  have to click on the suspicious website link.

After an affirmation from the fellow, Peace forged ahead. But coincidentally, after clicking on the link, Peace received a debit alert from her bank. 

It was not just an alert – it was a red alert!

The newbie fact-checker became alerted after receiving the debit alert. She thought it was the suspicious website at play. Immediately, she contacted her bank seeking information regarding the transaction.

A report shows that in Africa, the peril of cybercrimes recorded a massive rise in the first six months of 2022, “with phishing and scams hitting 438 percent and 174 percent in Kenya and Nigeria, respectively”.

It has been observed that phishing websites usually go viral especially on WhatsApp since people share with the hope of receiving a response/reward for the application filled. 

These fake websites are often attached with posts, which include; employment opportunities, loan funds, incentives etc. 

For instance, FactCheckElection debunked the fake news that the Independent National Electoral Commission was recruiting. 

A fake website link also went viral that a winner of a popular TV show, BBNAIJA was giving incentives to fans. 

However, fact-checkers conversant with tricks hackers use in making unsuspecting members of the public share fake website links have provided tips to protect them, including fact-checkers, too. 

“Once you’re a fact-checker, you’re prone to attack”, says Raji Olatunji, a fact-checker with FactCheckHub, adding that “You’re only chasing fake news and you don’t know those watching you. Hence, make sure you have strong passwords for your social media accounts and also do two-step verification in case they come after you as a fact-checker.”

The ace fact-checker pointed out fact-checkers should understand that fake websites can be accessed without inputting the correct information, noting that some fake websites are usually on automation. 

“Most of the viral posts requesting for your personal information are token websites; they may not have the intention to get your log in details but, phishing websites are those that have similar names with the popular websites that we know. And by the time you click on the link, it will enter your login details and with that, they can hack your account. That’s the way hackers get to hijack your account”, he said.

Also, the founder of News Verifier Africa, Zainab Adetola said there are open-source intelligence tools that can be used to investigate websites as fact-checkers. 

The fact-check journalist however gave tips for fact-checkers: 

Tip 1: You should not put your personal information, original and account details while fact-checking websites. It is advised that every investigator has a burner account for professional use while working on suspicious websites or social media platforms where hiding identity is essential. 

Tip 2: Use VPN to hide your IP address when investigating websites or suspicious platforms. It is more advisable to use a paid version of VPN as they are safer and more reliable than the free version of them 

Tip 3: Avoid the use of available web browsers. Use specialized websites that have been proven to be safer and more efficient.

Although the transaction from Peace’s bank account was an error as she later confirmed from her bank, it’s worthwhile to state that following the tips above will help to prevent a person’s account from being hacked or personal information being stolen.

Generally, the Internet is a fantastic source of news and information, but not everything on the internet is reliable. It is the home of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and harmful information, while fake news is not unique to the Internet, it has recently emerged as a significant issue in today’s digital world.

Fake news is typically spread by websites that specialize in false or sensationalist stories. It is intended to outrage and shock readers, prompting them to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media platform without question. 

Sharing the article exposes it to more people who may be offended by it and, in turn, share it without hesitation, and so on. This cycle will continue until a significant number of people believe this fabricated story is true.

Fake news can be difficult to spot. Even those who are aware of the dangers of fake news may not realize they are reading or viewing it until it is flagged by a friend or a legitimate media outlet. However, these tips highlight the due diligence process required to identify fake news to prevent it from spreading.

  1. Ask questions: When you see something suspicious online, use these three questions to confirm it:
  • Who is the source of the information?
  • What is the proof?
  • What do other sources have to say?

These questions, according to the Stanford History Education Group, are scientifically proven to assist you in conducting your research and discovering the truth. You can ask them about anything you see on the internet. 

  1. Check the originating source of news: When an article is shared on social media platforms, the source publication is immediately visible. 

Investigate the author’s and publication’s history and reputation. Take a look at the headlines of the other stories from the same website. Are most of them hard to believe? Shocking? Inflammatory? If so, question the website’s practices. If the articles all share the same political viewpoint, are riddled with typos or grammatical errors, or are all written by the same author, red flags are raised. 

  1. Lateral reading; Look for keywords in posts. Investigate what multiple credible sources are reporting.
    Enter the keywords of a story into a search engine to get a second opinion from a credible news site with verifiable sources. This can assist you to find out what is fact and what is fake. 

Open new browser tabs to look up and confirm the information in a post. Examine, for example, who shared the post and why. Are they affiliated with a highly biased organization? Did they provide any sources or actual evidence to back it up? Are the sources reliable? 

  1. Check the dates involved in the article. Fake news writers sometimes take a real story from the past, put an outrageous headline on it, and try to pass it off as a current event.
  2. Examine the photos and other media that accompany the stories with care:
    While a picture is worth a thousand words, it is useless and potentially harmful if the image is intended to mislead rather than inform viewers. If you see a shocking or particularly engaging photo or video in an article, consider whether the media is relevant to the main gist of the story or is solely intended to elicit an emotional reaction in readers. 

To conduct a reverse image search, use a service like TinEye or Google Image. This search will show where else the image appears on the web, as well as whether the image has been tampered with.

Fake news has been responsible for a significant amount of misinformation because an increasing number of people have started consuming and believing these articles without bothering to fact-check or even read beyond the headlines. This acceptance of false information has res‏ulted in confusion, panic, and an inability to discuss current events based on the facts.

In conclusion, FactCheckElections advises internet users to beware from clicking on suspicious websites, stop sharing them and to conduct simple checks on articles and sensational posts before sharing.

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