England and Wales’ millions of internet-consuming residents have been issued with guidance to help discern so-called ‘fake news’ from regular news, courtesy of the Local Government Association (LGA).
Councils are becoming increasingly concerned about their citizens being hit with scammers claiming to represent their local authorities, thus the LGA is urging people to adopt a ‘three-stage fact-check’ to determine if online info is fake news, a scam, or some other nonsense.
And what does this ‘three-stage fact-check’ consist of, then, I hear you ask. Well, hang on a minute and I’ll tell you…right about…now:
Stage 1 – online readers should first check the source; if it’s from social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, then genuine accounts should be verified with a blue tick.
Stage 2 – the discerning reader should have a look into the media they are getting the info from. If it’s purporting to be a council website, then its URL should end gov.uk, and should include basic council-related stuff like details about councillors and service contacts. Twitter and Facebook feeds should have a ‘straightforward, fairly formal tone about communication on behalf of a public body’.
Stage 3 – according to the LGA, this is the most important stage. Readers should finally ask themselves about the content before them and whether or not it’s something a council is likely to disseminate. If it’s sensationalist, out of character for a council, or appears to be politically biased, then a big red flag should start waving in your mind.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘The ability to supply accurate information to residents is crucial to councils – whether it’s advising of closures owing to severe weather or updating on essential services. Fake news and misinformation can have serious consequences.
‘The best way to tackle misinformation is for residents to be constantly vigilant, and ask the key questions of any information they see online – who is supplying this information, how are they doing it, and what are they saying? If those questions set off any red flags or alarm, it’s worth cross-referencing information with other council communication channels, such as the council website, social media, or calling the council directly.’
Have a read of the LGA’s press release, which has a number of case studies on fake news incidents. For example, Nottingham City Council saw fake letters sent to some of its residents demanding they pay £120 or have their car taken away by a ‘toe truck’ – which must have raised eyebrows among even the most credulous of citizens.