Fake news is spreading like wildfire across the Internet. Between misleading headlines, quotes used out of context, or even stories that are completely false, it can be hard to know which news stories to trust, especially when most people get at least some of their news from social media, where fake news quickly spreads and can be hard to detect. In fact, in the three months leading up to the U.S. election, 20 top-performing20 top-performing true stories in engagement on Facebook. How do you know if a news story is true or not? Here are five things to look for when examining the news:
It may sound simple, but many fake news stories get shared simply because of a catchy headline. Take time to read past the headline to get the real gist of the article—you may be able to easily see gaps in the facts or logic. Some fake news outlets write a factual first paragraph but fill the rest of the article with falsities because few people actually read the entire article. Know the full story before you make a decision about its truthfulness and decide to share it.
Thanks to the Internet, anyone can write anything and make it look at least decently professional. Take a look at a website’s URL to see if it comes from a reputable organization.
Have youbefore, and are its other news stories accurate? In general, sites ending in .com or .org are fairly reliable, but watch out for sites ending with things like . , even if the domain is something you trust; abcnews.com is a legitimate source for news, but abcnews.com.co is not. You can also get a good idea of the credibility of a news organization from just a quick glance through its website. Sites that are covered in ads, poor images, typos, or titles in all caps are likely not the most professional and accurate.
A common strategy of fake news spreaders is to find an old article and start spreading it around like it just happened. The article itself might be accurate, but portraying it as current is false. This is especially dangerous when people only see the headline and assume the event just happened. The publish date and time should be easily seen at the top or bottom of the article; if not, it could be a sign that a fake news organization is trying to hide something.
A trustworthy news story will generally have quotes from. This is particularly true for stories about more controversial or debatable topics, when good news outlets will use university professors, researchers, and area experts as sources.
To verify the sources, run a search on each person’s research to see if their comments are truly based in fact—some fake news organizations link to other websites that spread misinformation. You can also fact-check quotes, especially for well-known people. If an article says the president said something, you can quickly Google the quote to see if it showed up in official records or other reports.
All news sites should have a link, usually in the top or bottom toolbar, which links to an “About Us” section. This can be a good place to check if you haven’t heard of the news outlet—just because the name is unfamiliar doesn’t automatically mean the news is fake. Legitimate news sites will have a fully fleshed “About Us” section that includes the organization’s leadership and mission and ethics statements. In general, the tone of the section should be fairly straightforward, just like you would expect from the news. If the language is more casual or dramatic, it could be a sign that the news is biased or incorrect.
If all else fails, check to see if other news organizations are reporting the same story. There is safety in numbers, especially if multiple credible news outlets are on board. If you find news that is fake, let others know. The spread of fake news only gets worse when we don’t act to take down the false stories and when we share news stories without checking to make sure they are accurate. With constant effort, you can identify and help take down false news one story at a time.