Empowering Seniors:
Must-Have Skills for Detecting Fake News

See also: Critical Thinking Skills

Real defence against cybersecurity threats starts with every online user. It's our responsibility to detect and prevent various attacks from happening.

Unfortunately, it's hard to expect many older adults to do their part online, mainly because they significantly lack the necessary skills to protect themselves against numerous threats. For instance, many of them still fall victim to fake news stories on social media pages and other areas of the internet

Spotting fake news is a must-have skill for older adults, being among the prime targets for threat actors who create them. With that, read below to learn more about fake news and how to detect it. Give this guide a quick read and share it with seniors in your family.

Senior using a laptop.

Understanding Fake News

Older adults must watch out for various types of fake news. Let's explore all of them to understand them better.

  • Clickbait

    Clickbait is the most common form of fake news stories older adults may encounter. It often uses a sensationalized headline encouraging online users to click, often appearing as an article, image, or video.

    This practice deliberately plays with people's emotions and curiosity with controversial titles. It doesn't care for accuracy but only ad revenues from clicks. That's why they often have content with poor quality and questionable information.

  • Propaganda

    Propaganda refers to false stories developed to mislead online users, typically to promote or damage a political agenda. This can be used by various threat actors, including government officials, organizations, or interest groups, to influence public discourse and manipulate people's political decisions.

  • Incompetent journalism

    Journalists do intensive fact-checking to ensure that all details reported are accurate. Unfortunately, some journalists may produce incorrect reports due to either lack of training or competence. This type of misinformation is considered fake news but might be more believable since an established professional wrote it.

  • Imposter content

    This type of fake news is created by accounts or pages that impersonate genuine online sources, whether they're prominent online figures or news websites. This is to make their false information more believable to mislead the followers of the entity or organization they're copying.

  • Satire or parody

    Some fake news stories are created for entertainment purposes. Many humour-based pages develop this content to entertain followers and poke fun at real-life events. Unlike most fake news stories that aim to spread false information deliberately, they're not meant to be taken seriously.

Fake news - newspaper mockup.

How Older Adults Can Battle Fake News

Fake news stories are becoming increasingly realistic and believable. To help older adults handle such threats, here are some of the best practices they must do online.

Check the source

Anyone can develop enticing headlines and stories online regardless of whether they are true. Older adults must go the extra mile and check beyond the content.

The most common solution to detect fake news is to check the website where it's published. A legitimate or trusted online source often provides more information about the organization.

Usually, you'll see a page like 'About Us' that summarizes the company's vision, objectives, and industry experience. Doing so will help you gauge whether the entity that publishes the content is real. It will also help you identify if the site is meant for entertainment purposes only or if it wants to support a specific political agenda.

Another way to determine if a source is fake is through the site address in the bar at the top of the page. Fake news sites often imitate trustworthy websites to make them seem legitimate.

However, you can spot these fraudulent pages through various techniques. Some of them are as follows.

  • Using an unusual domain instead of .com, .org, .net, .edu, or .gov

  • Having extra punctuation in the domain name

  • Imitating legitimate websites but having different spellings

  • Incorporating a number instead of a letter in the domain name

  • Having URL in uppercase letters or all caps

Cross-reference the story

To ensure the story is trustworthy, you must check other news sites to see if they cover the same topic. If you find it on numerous credible sources, it's highly likely that it's not fake. The key is to check multiple sites to see if the event is confirmed.

If you don't know where to look, check these legitimate online sources:

  • news.google.com
  • bbc.co.uk
  • nytimes.com
  • msn.com
  • cnn.com
  • theguardian.com
  • foxnews.com
  • news.yahoo.com
  • finance.yahoo.com

Make it a habit to check these sites and other similar sources before believing a shocking headline on the internet.

Watch out for triggering headlines

As mentioned above, most fake news stories rely on human emotions and curiosity. Often, they're meant to shock or anger online users and urge them to click on a link. They also use cheap tactics to make their headlines seem more urgent. These include putting letters in all caps and adding many exclamation points.

Here are some examples of these triggering phrases fake news websites incorporate in their headlines. These are commonly used in clickbait fake news stories.

  • You'll be surprised!!!
  • The results will amaze you!
  • You won't believe what happens next!

Moreover, if it sounds too good or absurd to be true, it probably is.

Be wary of fake photos

Fake news stories often incorporate manipulated images to support their false claims. This is a common practice for clickbaiting online users and launching damaging propaganda.

Unfortunately, these images are becoming increasingly difficult to authenticate, especially with the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

The good news is that doing so is not entirely impossible. With various detector tools online, you can empower older adults in the family to analyze these images and check if they're real.

Report fake news stories

Fake news stories are prevalent on different social media platforms. The good news is that these channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, allow users to report content they think contains false information. With this service, seniors in the family can contribute to the continuous battle against misinformation on the internet.

Meanwhile, various fact-checking organizations exist to help online users authenticate a story they encounter. Websites like FactCheck.org, Snopes, and PolitiFact often accept submissions, particularly those with political implications.

Empower Older Adults Against Fake News

Fake news stories only succeed when online users share them with friends and followers. Unfortunately, because many older adults are unaware of the common signs of fake news, they likely share what they think are legitimate stories, increasing the chances of more people being tricked by the same content.

The tips above will help empower and encourage older adults to join the battle against fake news. Give them all the necessary knowledge and practices to increase awareness and reduce the number of victims of these fraudulent or malicious stories.

About the Author

Ivan Serrano: I have been a technology and business writer since 2015 working with companies like SmallBizClub, StartupNation, Namecheap and Time Doctor. I have loved writing my whole life and being in business development has given me a unique perspective. I'm obsessed with our constantly evolving fast-paced society and finding new ways to integrate that into amazing content that teaches the readers something new.