How do you know if a news story is fake news?
Fake news became a hot topic in the United States 2016 elections as fake news spread like wildfire across social networks like Facebook. Although fake news and bad information has always existed (e.g., chain mail), well designed fake news on social networks can get a much wider audience in a much shorter time. Below are different steps in how you can determine if a news story is fake.
What is the source?
It is possible for anyone in the world to create a website and post whatever they want on the Internet. Many smaller news sites do not have the human resources to fact-check every story or may be trying to get the story out before anyone else without fact-checking the story. Other news sites may only post stories with clickbait headlines to help drive traffic to their websites and earn more ad revenue. Make sure that the website who published the story is from a major news network or local paper that has the people that fact-check published stories. Also, find the identity of the author, and look for additional stories they have written.
Tip: You can usually find more about a website through the About Us link often found at the footer (bottom) of every page.
Read the domain name
For example, a site may claim to be CNN but have a URL similar to one of the examples below.
In the above example, "cnn" is a subdomain of the domain "fakenews.com" and is in no way affiliated with CNN. Just because the URL has the words "CNN" doesn't mean it is from CNN.
In the above example, "cnn" is the subdomain of the domain "com.co." The .co is the domain suffix that is often used to confuse or help prevent detection from someone not paying attention to the domain name.
In the above example, "cnn" is a file or directory contained on the "fakenews.com" domain.
Google the headline
In 2016, Google helped spread some of the fake news because of how high they ranked some of the fake news sites getting a lot of traffic. However, because then they have improved their algorithms and have also added a fact-check feature that shows results from fact-checking sites like Snopes.com. Today, you can Google any news headline that may be in your social network news feed to see if the story is true.
One of the best methods of spreading fake news is to play on human emotions (e.g., cause anger) with a sensational headline or story. If the story seems outrageous or impossible, always spend an extra minute to check the story with other sources before you click that Like or Share button. If the story is not reported by other news sources, it is more than likely fake news.
Also, read more than the headline. It is not uncommon for some websites to have a misleading headline (clickbait) that doesn't tell the whole story to get you to visit the page.
Tip: If the story is outlandish, consider that it may be satire. For example, The Onion is an example of a satire news site. If a site is satire, it should contain a disclaimer somewhere on the site.
Use the WOT browser plugin
The WOT (Web of Trust) browser plugin can be added to most major browsers and can help you know what pages on the Internet are safe, based on of the feedback from other WOT members.
The article is a common fake news topic
Some fake news topics seem to spread easier than other fake news. If the news topic you're reading is about one or more of the following, it has a greater chance of being fake news.
- End of the world or judgment day.
- Predicted future disaster or another prediction.
- Famous person's death or other illness.
- Major cure or breakthrough in science.
- Political or election news that causes a lot of anger.
- Outlandish religious news about a church or its members.
- Unproven phenomenon relating to aliens, ghosts, or other supernatural events.
- An attack or threat of an attack by an organization, country, or person.
Check with fact-checking websites
Many sites on the Internet can help you fact-check stories. A selection of these are listed here.
- Snopes - One of the best and oldest places on the Internet to find fake news and old chain mail and hoaxes still circulating in e-mail.
- Politifact - Fact checking website that rates the accuracy of claims elected U.S. officials make.
- FactCheck.org - Nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Monitors the factual accuracy of what's being said in the by political figures in the U.S.
Tip: Many libraries also have librarians that can help you fact-check a store or website.
How to report or hide fake news
Social networking sites and websites that allow anyone to post pages also allow you to report or hide stories you see in your news feed or on the site. If the same person keeps posting the fake news stories consider hiding or unfollowing them. If you don't want to see stories from a particular website, you can also hide stories from that site only.