In times of crisis, finding legitimate information and avoiding false information is extremely challenging. Just like the real world, the internet becomes a fast-changing environment where you can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of content you encounter. That’s why learning how to identify trustworthy sources of information can have significant implications for your safety.
Question everything you see online
The online world, and in particular, social media, is cluttered with inaccurate information. This is especially true during active conflicts, when the line between fact and fiction blurs, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s true and what’s not.
Before you rely on anything you see online, stop for a second and think! Could this information include unverified facts? Or could it all be fake because someone has a deliberate interest in deceiving you? Understanding the difference between these two categories can already help you to spot when something is not real.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread without the intent to mislead. It often originates from simple misunderstandings, mistakes, or outdated information that gets shared without malicious intent.
How does it happen?
Individuals eager to share updates might circulate unverified facts through social media, leading to a ripple effect where the misinformation reaches far and wide, sometimes even being picked up by mainstream media.
Why is it dangerous?
Misinformation can lead to confusion, create false hopes or unnecessary panic, and in some cases, result in real-world harm.
Disinformation is the deliberate creation and dissemination of false information with the intent to deceive. It could be used to manipulate public opinion, discredit opposition, or create diversions from the truth.
How does it happen?
Disinformation may include fabricating stories, editing images or videos, or presenting information out of context to mislead the audience.
Why is it dangerous?
It is crafted to be believable and to tap into emotional responses. It can polarise communities, incite violence, or lead to misinformed decisions that might jeopardise your safety.
In both cases, social media algorithms accelerate the spread of false information. These algorithms are designed to show content that engages users, which means sensational and emotionally charged posts can get more visibility. To safeguard yourself against false information, it's important to develop a habit of looking critically at every piece of information.
- Check the source of the information – is it a reputable news outlet or an unknown blog?
- Look at the date of the article or post – is it current or an old piece being recirculated?
- Does it have a sensational headline or evoke strong emotional response? These are often designed to provoke rather than inform.
One of the best ways to verify information is by consulting multiple sources. If you come across a piece of news or information, see if it is being reported elsewhere, particularly by established news outlets or official channels like government or humanitarian websites. You can also use online tools and websites dedicated to fact-checking and debunking false information such as Google’s Fact Check Tool or Snopes.
Before sharing information on social media, always verify its accuracy to avoid unintentionally spreading misinformation or disinformation.
Find trustworthy sources of information
When you arrive in a new environment, you should identify the organisations and websites that supply not only reliable, but also relevant content to your specific needs. For you, these could include some of the following.
- Websites of humanitarian organisations should be your first go-to sources as they provide verified, trustworthy information, specifically written in a format that you can easily understand. For UNHCR, this is our Help! website, that is available in 100+ countries around the world.
- Governmental websites offer guidance on policies, laws, procedures, and state provided assistance.
- Websites of NGOs present practical advice and support services, specialised around certain needs and topics.
- Volunteer websites are also a common way of supporting displaced populations. However, you should be careful, as it can be difficult to verify who exactly runs them.
Assess the credibility of websites
Assessing the credibility of a website is crucial, especially when the information offered will impact your decisions. A credible website can be a source of accurate and useful information, while an unreliable one can easily mislead or harm you.
Reliable websites have…
- Up-to-date content matching current news.
- Professional looking website design.
- Clear mission statements and details about the publishing authors or organisations.
- Easily found contact information like the website’s phone number or email.
- Endorsements from reputable organisations, which are also verifiable on other sites.
Unreliable websites have…
- Sensational or emotional content without evidence.
- Outdated content, not up-to-date, or broken links.
- Information from anonymous posters and content that lacks authorship.
- Excessive ads or pop-ups suggesting a profit motive over accuracy.
- Lack of clear information about the website's ownership, funding, and purpose.
- Unusual domain names or those imitating known sites with minor changes.
Verify online communities before you join
Online communities, such as Facebook Groups, provide valuable support and information. They're great for connecting with others facing similar challenges, offering practical advice and emotional support.
Yet, these communities come with risks. Not every group is well-moderated, and some might spread misinformation, scams, or even engage in predatory behaviour. Their open nature, while promoting connection, can leave members open to exploitation. As a displaced person, be cautious: some groups that appear helpful could have harmful motives.
Safe online communities have…
- Clearly defined purpose and rules for behaviour and content.
- Active moderators keeping discussions relevant and respectful.
- Positive and supportive member interactions.
- Established process for verifying new members.
Unsafe online communities have…
- Unbelievable promises or sensational news lacking credible sources.
- Pushy selling tactics, asking for personal information, and other suspicious behaviours
- Poor moderation, allowing misinformation or harmful behaviour.
- Anonymity among members, potentially leading to harmful activities.
Just like with other online sources, take information shared in online groups with a grain of salt, especially if it's unverified or comes from anonymous sources. Before acting on any information related to safety, travel routes, or legal advice, look for verification from multiple official and credible sources.