Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Social media has many benefits and provides a wealth of information to keep users in the loop on topics ranging from glamorous lifestyle blogs to breaking news stories. These platforms have also been a valuable tool in the fight against crime.

There are, however, many drawbacks that users are not aware of when sharing sensitive information.

Neighbourhood watch groups (such as on WhatsApp or Telegram) create a platform where pertinent information can be shared instantaneously. However, participants should ensure they only upload and share verified information, says Charnel Hattingh, National Marketing and Communications Manager for Fidelity ADT.

“Knowing how to differentiate between a real news story (or post) and a counterfeit one, will help to stop the dissemination of fake stories or rumours. Use these sites and platforms responsibly to create a space where only reliable information is shared,” she explains.

Fake social media accounts thrive on posting sensationalised articles and feature stories which are laden with varying degrees of dishonest claims. “It is crucial to be able to spot the difference between these types of viral posts,” says Hattingh.

Another pitfall lies in posting or sharing images of alleged suspects which could have legal ramifications for those who make the posts. Hattingh advises against this, to avoid impacting negatively on any ongoing court cases.

“Even if it is unintentional, it could tarnish the reputation of the ‘accused’ and their family. In this instance, it is harmful when the suspects are found not have had any guilt or involvement in the alleged act of crime,” she says.

In the spread of false information, the liability does not only sit with the source of the post but those tagged in it as well.

“The onus lies with the person implicated in any suspicious post. Individuals should ensure they aren’t associated with it (by untagging themselves),” recommends Hattingh.

Social media platforms, like Facebook, have invested in initiatives to minimise the prevalence of accounts that spread misinformation. The organisation intends to make it difficult for illegitimate sites and accounts to buy advertisements. It limits the profit produced (through ads) from any viral posts designed to drive traffic to phoney news websites.

“These types of fake accounts masquerade as a legitimate news source and can be difficult to spot, but there are ways to identify the deception,” says Hattingh. Dishonest news sites usually include catchy and outrages headlines to attract large volumes of readers.  Headlines are sensationalised and often accompanied by enticing images.

“These forms of clickbait play on people’s curiosity, with far-fetched claims. If you are to come across a headline like this, it is best not to click on it or let alone share it,” recommends Hattingh.

 Tips for spotting fake news:

  • Apart from questionable headlines and images, is the reporter’s name in the by-line?
  • If you’ve found an author, check if they have written any other articles.
  • Always check for multiple sources. Have you seen this story featured on other reputable news sites?
  • Fake sites will often pose as a popular news site, using its name and link. This is achieved by substituting a letter, which tricks audiences into mistakenly thinking it’s the well-known news organisation.

Sources

·         https://businesstech.co.za/news/technology/245361/6-things-fidelity-adt-wants-you-to-stop-posting-on-facebook-and-whatsapp-security-groups/

·         https://www.facebook.com/facebookmedia/blog/working-to-stop-misinformation-and-false-news

·         https://www.facebook.com/help/188118808357379 (tips for spotting fake news)

·         http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/266195/why-you-shouldnt-post-share-pics-of-criminal-suspects-unless-confirmed

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