Online safety / July 20, 2023

Fact or fiction? How to avoid falling into the fake news trap.

Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee

Senior Program Manager, Tech for Good & TELUS Wise

Pensive senior woman looking at laptop

In early July 2023, a news release from the Hamilton Police Service circulated about a crypto scam. Two Canadian teens known as Felon and Gaze scammed a victim in the US out of $4.2 million worth of Ethereum and Bitcoin.

Several local and international news organizations reported on the story. But guess what? It was fake news. Hackers spoofed a Hamilton Police Services email address (disguised their communication to seem like it was coming from a trusted source) and sent out the fake news release.

There is a lot of fake news out there, making it hard for anyone consuming media to decipher fact from fiction. But it’s important to know how to recognize fake news, verify what you’re reading, avoid untrusted sources and share only what’s reputable.

Is it real or not?

Fake news is a broad umbrella, which according to Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity, includes:

  • Misinformation: false information shared without the intention of misleading
  • Disinformation: false information intended to mislead or manipulate
  • Malinformation: anchored in the truth but exaggerated to the point where it can be misleading and cause harm or damage

How can you tell what’s real and what’s fake? This is a really important question to ask – especially as all of us consume more media online.

In our digital world, it can seem like everyone is an expert (think fitness, health, travel, being a mom to name a few) or has an opinion to share. There are so many interpretations of the facts and so many opinions about what those facts mean. And then, there are also people and groups intent on sharing fake news to advance their damaging agendas, cause harm or victimize innocent people.

As a baseline, The Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity reminds us that valid information is factually correct, based on data that can be confirmed and is not misleading.

Building on that, the Government of Canada offers some great tips on how to identify possible fake news. Be cautious of content that:

  • Tries to elicit a strong emotional reaction or response
  • Makes bold claims about controversial topics
  • Includes clickbait to entice you to click on the link provided (Get this great offer! Watch this unbelievable video! Find out for yourself!)
  • Builds on valid information but exaggerates or distorts it
  • Appears on platforms widely known for spreading disinformation

These tips are great for adults, but what about the kids in your life? Children may not have fully developed the critical thinking skills that many adults have to decipher what’s real and what’s not. It’s important to help them hone those skills and become more media literate with tools designed specifically for them. TELUS partner MediaSmarts offers four easy steps to help youth and adults “Break the Fake” and figure out what’s true online:

  1. Use fact checking tools
  2. Find the original source
  3. Verify the original source
  4. Check other sources

Avoiding the fake news trap

Digital and social media offer great opportunities to explore your curiosity on virtually any topic, stay current with the news and learn. How can you enjoy those opportunities productively while avoiding the fake news trap?

  • Look for legitimacy: a lot of fake news lives on spoofed websites (fraudulent websites that are presented as legitimate) and phony social media accounts. How can you tell? With websites, you can search the name of the organization and compare the site you’re on with the site that comes up in search results. You can also do a WHOIS domain search to verify the domain name and find out who owns it. For social media profiles, the Better Business Bureau offers some great tips to spot fake accounts including: reverse image search the profile photo to make sure it is original and not copied from somewhere on the Internet, check content for spelling errors, typos, bad grammar or obvious bad translation, check if the person/organization is verified by the platform (i.e. a blue checkmark on Instagram) and be aware whether posts include extreme views, questionable reviews or suspicious links.
  • Unfollow: if you follow a social media account(s) that is constantly posting negative or questionable information from untrustworthy sources, unfollow. You have the power (to some degree) to control what you see in your feeds.
  • Rely on trusted sources: whether it’s health, politics, the economy or entertainment, it’s critical to seek out reputable sources. Try to find unbiased accounts of events or pick two or three sources that offer differing perspectives for a well-rounded viewpoint. Remember, fake news often mimics legitimate news stories, and the deception is subtle and often hard to detect.
  • Check before you share: it’s so common now to share posts, stories and videos that resonate with you. But it’s important to be responsible when you share. Read the entire story or watch the entire video rather than just getting hooked into the headline. If you read it or watch it, and something seems off, verify the facts before sharing. is an excellent fact checking site to help you determine if something is fact or fiction.

With the sheer volume of news available and the uptick in smart phone journalists and armchair experts, it’s more important than ever to monitor your news consumption and approach it with a critical eye. In an age of diverse digital media, knowing how to distinguish fact from fiction is an important skill for staying responsibly informed and stopping the spread of fake news and the harm it can cause.

Test your knowledge about “fake news” and the best ways to avoid it with this TELUS Wise Kahoot quiz.

Prevention & support
Safe digital habits
Frauds & scams
Online reputation
Fake news
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