LISTEN | Five steps to fight fake news and false information on WhatsApp

Always ask yourself (and other users) these five questions before you forward a WhatsApp message. Be aware before you share!

27 August 2020 - 14:49 By Africa Check
Fake news has threatened to undermining the fight against Covid-19.
Fake news has threatened to undermining the fight against Covid-19.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Here is how to prevent becoming a victim of fake news:

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“Shaun, on the news, the bottle stores are closing tonight. The president's talking 'coz of all the accidents happening and the cops were killed in the accident ...”

These words, circulating in a WhatsApp voice note, ignited a panic-buying spree that drew crowds of anxious people to liquor outlets across the country on Tuesday.

“Fake news,” was the response from the presidency.

Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation, previously offered five tips on how to debunk fake news and false information peddled on WhatsApp. It noted that forwarding a false message on WhatsApp can mislead your friends and family. They may be tricked into believing something that isn’t true.

It said false information could also kill. In 2018, rumours of child kidnapping spread across WhatsApp in India, with tragic results. Viral messages on the platform have been linked to the deaths of 30 people in the country.  

In SA, WhatsApp messages have circulated with rumours about foreigners, local crime trends, political conspiracies, racial attacks, and other “hot-button” issues that can fuel conflict and distrust.

We should always be careful not to share fake or misleading messages, but how can you tell if a message is false? Here are five questions to ask yourself (and your friends) before you share.

1) Who wrote it?

Many fake messages (especially forwarded ones) don’t say who wrote the message. If we don’t know who wrote it, how can we trust it?

If you aren’t sure who wrote the message or where its claims come from — be careful.

Before you share: Ask the sender who the author and source is, and double-check the facts.

2) Can I verify the claims?

Many fake messages don’t give sources for their claims, or use unreliable sources like hoax news sites. Some fakes say they come from a trusted source, such as a real news site — but they’re lying.

If you aren’t sure a claim is backed up by a trusted source — be careful.

Before you share: Ask the sender if the same claim has been reported on any trusted news sites or other sources, and make sure these aren’t hoax sites. Even then, double-check the facts.

Guide: How to verify a website and the people behind it

3) Does the info make me scared or angry?

Many fake messages try to make us scared or angry about something. They can be shocking claims about crime or kidnapping, about people from a different country or racial group, or about new government policies.

If a message makes scary or shocking claims — be careful.

Before you share: Ask yourself if the message is playing on people’s fears or prejudices, and double-check the facts.

4) Does it include shocking pictures, video or audio?

Many fake messages use pictures, video or audio to trick us. These could be edited to be misleading. They could also be taken from a different event in another time or place.

If a message includes shocking pictures, video or audio — be careful.

Before you share: Check if the media has been edited, and double-check to see if it’s actually from a previous event or different place.

Guide: How to verify images on your smartphone

5) Am I sure this is not a hoax?

Many fake messages can be checked out online. You can search reliable news sites or fact-checking websites such as or

If you are still not sure if the message is a hoax — be careful.

Before you share: Search online to see if the message has already been fact-checked or reported as a hoax. You can also ask Africa Check to fact-check a message by contacting us on WhatsApp at (+27) 073 749 7875.

Don’t share information unless you are sure it’s true. Just because it’s on a website or social media doesn’t mean it’s true!

• WhatsApp — Tips to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news:

• This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.