According to a survey commissioned by Avast, a staggering nine in 10 (89 per cent) Aussies believe that fake news has the ability to impact the nation and their vote in the upcoming election, set to take place on 21 May.
A three-day blackout, which bans election campaign material on radio and television, has led some political parties to spend big on online ads. The blackout banning election advertising on television or radio will commence from 12am on Thursday, 19 May until polling booths close on Saturday, 21 May.
The rule only applies to broadcasters and excludes online, social media and print, which means election campaign ads can still run on YouTube and Facebook, with political parties spending big on advertising in the digital space.
However, the Avast-commissioned research found that 62 per cent of Australians feel confident they can spot fake news, yet more than half of respondents (56 per cent) admitted to believing a fake news story in the past.
Sensationalist fake news is often used to generate clicks onto a webpage to improve ad revenue according to Stephen Kho, security expert at Avast, who notes that it has also been used to influence public thought.
“The problem with misinformation is that it is becoming more widespread as we all become increasingly more connected online, and fake news sites are interconnected to amplify fake news further across different channels.
“In recent research, our AI team has found out that 17.9 per cent of hyperlinks of misinformation sites link to other misinformation domains.
“If users visit a misinformation site, the risk is higher that they end up in a rabbit hole of misinformation sites,” Kho said.
The research shows that nearly three quarters of Australians (74 per cent) would find it helpful for them and fellow Australians to have access to information and guidance on how to identify fake news.
The research also found that 38 per cent of Australians are not confident in their ability to identify fake news online and, surprisingly the youngest of the respondents (those 18-24) were the least confident of all with only 15.7 per cent strongly agreeing that they could confidently spot fake news online.
As the media blackout rolls out, this doesn’t stop fake news from circulating ahead of voting this Saturday so Aussies need to be wary of what they may be targeted with in the coming days.
Avast recommends running through these four criteria when assessing a news source for misinformation:
- Check the source: Readers should question the source, asking themselves if they have ever heard of it, and assess the source’s appearance. Readers should also research the source to see what has been reported about the source.
- Check the headline: Clickbait articles designed to garner as many clicks as possible often have very catchy headlines. It is therefore important for readers to question articles where the headline and the actual story have little or no connection, and short articles bringing little to no insights.
- Check the publication date: Readers should check the date of articles, regardless of if they are real or fake, to make sure they are reading the most current news.
- Avoid relying on social media: While social media giants are making an effort to flag fake news shared within their networks, it’s best to avoid consuming news and current affairs via social media news feeds.
- Read a variety of sources: Reading multiple, reliable news sources can help people avoid fake news. If one article is reporting a story with different facts, the news could be fake.
- Be critical of free “news” sites: Many free “news” sites rely on contributors, not a dedicated staff of journalists.
Kho warns that voters should be wary of fake news and misinformation.
“The internet has made it possible for everyone to be a publisher.
“And while that’s brought a lot of amazing things, it has also created an environment where fake news is a real and consistent problem.
“As information from all corners of the internet is being posted, shared, and liked in the lead up to voting, it’s increasingly important that Australians are aware of how to spot misinformation and misleading news that isn’t based in solid fact,” Kho concluded.
Nastasha is a Journalist at Momentum Media, she reports extensively across veterans affairs, cyber security and geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific. She is a co-author of a book titled The Stories Women Journalists Tell, published by Penguin Random House. Previously, she was a Content Producer at Verizon Media, a Digital Producer for Yahoo! and Channel 7, a Digital Journalist at Sky News Australia, as well as a Website Manager and Digital Producer at SBS Australia. Nastasha started her career in media as a Video Producer and Digital News Presenter at News Corp Australia.