Considerations on Spam, Fake News and Opinion Spamming

Spam, in general, is quite common nowadays and we receive it in many forms on many modern media, like WhatsApp messages, e-mails, sometimes SMS, from social networks to which we are registered, etc.. Usually the Spam is quite easy to be identified paying a bit of attention to some aspects.

The following are some aspects and actions to follow if we want to be sure we are not being targeted by spam e-mails/messages:

  • Double check. Emails requesting personal or financial information are a red flag. Be careful if someone is requesting that you provide personal data or to proceed with an invoice, transfer etc. - especially bulk requests. Contact the enterprise, company, friend, by phone first to double-check if this request is authentic.
  • Pay attention to the email address, subject and spelling. Watch carefully for emails with subjects containing words like: “Payment”, “Invoice”, “Transfer” etc. Even if a known contact is in the FROM field, check email address, spelling, and peruse carefully – as it could be an e-mail which looks very similar to the original.
  • Check the URL or link. If you’re not sure whether you can trust the site or sender, don’t click on the website link (even if it looks like an official company). Instead, open up a new window, search the link in the Internet and go to the website from there; or try contacting the company to verify the information. Fake websites are created to trick you out of personal information.
  • Don’t open suspicious attachments. Email attachments from unknown or suspicious senders could harm your computer and/or lead to data leakage. Therefore, Don’t open an attachment if you’re not sure it was originally sent by a trusted person.
  • Miraculous products and promises. The question is: who wouldn't want to lose many pounds in a short time? Or become stronger just by taking medicine or following a light training routine? Or get rich by investing almost no money? I would like too, but messages with such promises are usually simply spam.
  • Grammar and spelling errors. One of the main signs of spam is grammar and spelling errors in the message. It happens because the spammer, the creator of the spam, often doesn't know your language very well.
  • It's not spam. We love this last one. Trying to trick people, some spam messages come with an announcement that says something like: "This message isn’t spam. You’re receiving this email because you have registered on our website". That’s a nice try.

Similar to spam, fake news and fake opinions (opinion spamming) could lead us to do something really wrong, taking a position regarding a subject considering a fake opinion (well spread across multiple media) or buy services or products that we do not really need.

First, regarding the opinion spamming, we could refer to it as a set "illegal" activities (e.g., writing fake reviews, also called shilling) that try to mislead readers or automated opinion mining and sentiment analysis systems by giving undeserving positive opinions to some target entities in order to promote the entities and/or by giving false negative opinions to some other entities in order to damage their reputations.

Opinion spam has many forms, e.g., fake reviews (also called bogus reviews), fake comments, fake blogs, fake social network postings, deceptions, and deceptive messages.

Strictly linked to fake comments and opinions are usually the fake news (usually fake news are linked also to fake comments to strengthen the same fake news): these are the most difficult to identify, but a usual way to identify them is to analyze every news by considering multiple sources (including academic ones, if the subject is particularly susceptible to external modifications).

A common definition of the fake news is the following: information that cannot be verified, without sources, and possibly untrue. The following are the most common types of fake news, of which the first two are the most common to be seen in multiple countries: the False Headlines are the most common on social networks and Youtube videos, to trigger people to access the linked content or even to manipulate the people that actually just read the headline to have a specific behaviour regarding that subject.

Deliberate Misinformation

There is fake news written for profit and then shared on social media among targeted groups of people who want to believe that it is true. The intention is for the fake news to spread without readers taking the time to properly verify it. This type of fake news is untrue news.

False Headlines

A news headline may read one way or state something as fact, but then the body of the article says something different. The Internet term for this type of misleading fake news is “clickbait”—headlines that catch a reader’s attention to make them click on the fake news. This type of fake news is misleading at best and untrue at worst.

Social Media Sharing

Social media’s ability to show a large number of news items in a short time means that users might not take the time to research and verify each one. These sites often rely on shares, likes, or followers who then turn news items into a popularity contest, and just because something is popular and widely shared does not mean it’s true.


Satire news or comedy news often begins with an aspect of truth then purposefully twists it to comment on society. Satire news has the potential to be spread as though it is real news by those who do not understand its humorous nature.

Develop a Critical Mindset

One of the main reasons fake news is such a big issue is that it is often believable, which means it's easy to get caught out. Many fake news stories are also written to create "shock" value.

This means it's essential that you keep your emotional response to such stories in check. Instead, approach what you see and hear rationally and critically.

The Impact of Fake News in the Workplace

Some people might start to believe that they no longer need facts to back up their arguments. Others start to mistrust information all together. They stop listening to industry news or reports, and disengage entirely, slowing their professional growth and development. Ultimately, this can damage an organization's learning culture.

Fake news can affect behavior, too. It encourages people to invent excuses, to dismiss others' ideas, to exaggerate the truth, and to spread rumor. This can create divided, anxious workplaces where people are cynical and unsure of who to trust.

They might even begin to mistrust you if they believe that authority figures have lied to them, or that the information that they are working with is suspect. This can sap people of the curiosity, enthusiasm and ambition that they need to be successful.

Misinformation and fake news can also harm your organization.

All of this can happen because people are more likely to accept information that confirms their beliefs and dismiss information that does not, but the result of all this misinformation isn’t simply ignorance. It can also provoke serious consequences not only to us, but to all.

Identifying Fake News

The process and ability to be able to evaluate and separate fake news from real news is a part of media literacy and, on a broader level, information literacy. There are strategies that you can use to become a savvy judge of news especially online or when using social media. Below are three main questions that you should always ask yourself when evaluating a news story.

Question 1: Who is the creator?

The first question in figuring out if a something is fake news is by looking at the individual who created it, or understanding the organization behind it. When assessing news, especially that which exists on the Internet, it is important to review the following:

  • Do you know the person behind the presentation of the material?
  • Is there a byline or introduction, and are you aware of the person’s expertise?
  • Is the author listed on the site, or is there an “about me” section?
  • Does the organization have an “about us” link?
  • What is the name of the organization creating or hosting the content?
  • Look at the URL. Does it have a tilde ~ in it? This is frequently a personal site.
  • Check for the ending of the website’s URL: .gov, .edu, .mil, and .org are more credible than websites that end in .com, .net, and many others.
  • Search the Internet for more information about the author.
  • Search LinkedIn, a social media site for professionals.
  • Search an online library catalog to see what books the author has written.
  • Search online research databases to see what the author has written/published.
  • Is this a firsthand account, or is this being seen through the eyes of an editor?

Question 2: What is the message?

The second question in determining if something is fake news is by looking at the message itself and understanding what is being communicated. Review the following:

  • What is the content of the message?
  • Can I find this same news in multiple places?
  • Do multiple places use different experts and sources in their reports?
  • Is the website this news appears on updated regularly?
  • What is the date of the story?
  • Check the sources from the story and their expertise. Are they anonymous?
  • Are sources in quotes? Quotes lend greater authenticity and credibility.
  • Can you figure out if there is bias in the message? Is there a slant to the news?
  • Is the news fact or is it more opinion?
  • What viewpoint is being expressed and what is being left out?
  • What is the format of the message? Look at visual elements and text elements.

Question 3: Why was this created?

The third question in determining if something is fake news is by looking at why the message was created. Review the following:

  • Can you tell what motivated the creation of this message?
  • Was this message created for profit?
  • Is this news actually an advertisement?
  • Are the sources being paid?
  • Is the author being paid?
  • If the content lists itself as “sponsored content” that means an individual or organization is paying to display the content.

It is always a good idea to verify information before you share it with others—in person or on social media. Aside from the three questions above, an additional method that works is the CRAAP test, that is actually an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose and could help us doing ourselves some additional questions before accepting and rely on a news or information gathered by external sources, not so well-known and accredited:

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?