Beware new wave of fake news and scam links being shared on social media

BusinessTech has become aware of a fake news campaign targeting financial services firm, Discovery, using BusinessTech’s name as its primary source.

The campaign uses a fake BusinessTech site to publish misleading messages against Discovery, via social media sites, most notably, Facebook.

BusinessTech has reported the campaign, and posts, to the relevant channels, and encourages readers to be discerning in what they consume.

In the fake news stories being shared, the ‘i’ in BusinessTech appears to have been replaced with a lower case ‘l’, which in all upper-case text makes it difficult to spot the difference.

The posts are also being shared through sponsored items on Facebook, through pages that are not associated with BusinessTech in any way.

Chief marketing officer at Discovery, Firoze Bhorat said: “It is critical that people have access to accurate information to inform the decisions they make. Discovery takes immediate steps to combat fake news by reporting it to Facebook and Google whenever we become aware of examples such as these.

“Click bait content is often devised to extract information from people and we urge our clients to be conscious of the risks associated with clicking on suspicious links.”

Dangers of fake news

Fake news has proven to be highly disruptive in South Africa, both economically and socially, playing a key role in shaking up markets through false reports on publicly listed companies, as well as in driving campaigns against targeted individuals and organisations.

In South Africa, this was seen in targeted attacks against minister Pravin Gordhan during his fight against state capture, as well as against journalists who were writing stories to expose the extent of corruption networks in the country.

In cases such as the latest Discovery fake news, the risk is more directly targeted at those who click on the stories, as the intent is not to convince them that a fake story is real, but to direct them to a scam site, which may pose a security risk.

Fight back

News24 has conducted an in-depth investigation into the fake news industry, and the dissemination of misinformation in South Africa, including a blacklist of fake news websites, on a dedicated website titled Fake News Exposed.

The media organisation has also provided a guide to help readers to identify potential fake news.

How can I tell if a website is misinformation?

  • Can you find a physical address on the website’s ‘Contact Us’ or ‘About’ pages?
  • Can you identify any of the authors of the articles on the website?
  • Can you find other, credible publications running with the same story?
  • Does the headline seem exaggerated or irrelevant to the content of the article?

“These questions point to accountability: if the website is willing to accept responsibility for what it publishes, chances are they will take steps to ensure it is accurate and truthful.

“Answering these four questions should provide you with a reasonable idea whether the website is trustworthy or not. As a general rule of thumb, always be critical of the news you consume,” News24 said.

Facebook fact-checking

Late last year, Facebook launched a third-party fact-checking programme to help assess the accuracy of news in South Africa, and reduce the spread of misinformation.

The social network is working with two partners: Africa Check – Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation – and AFP – a well-respected news organisation – which are both part of a global network of fact-checking organisations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network.

The fact-checking programme relies on feedback from the Facebook community as one of many signals Facebook will use to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review.

Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos.

“If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution,” the social media platform said.

Once a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, Facebook said it is able to reduce its future views by an average of 80%, helping to curb economic incentives and reduce its spread.

When third-party fact-checkers write articles about a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed.

Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false.

Read: Facebook introduces new measures to combat fake news in South Africa

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Beware new wave of fake news and scam links being shared on social media