How do you know if a news story is fake news?

Updated: 06/30/2020 by Computer Hope

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 wrong 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 to determine if a news story is fake.

What is the source?

Anyone in the world can create a website and post whatever they want on the Internet. Many smaller news sites don't have the human resources to fact-check every story or are 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. Ensure that the website who published the story is from a major news network or local paper with fact-checkers. Also, find the identity of the author, and look for additional stories they have written.

Tip

Find more about a website through the About Us link often found at the footer (bottom) of every page.

Read the domain name

Websites can be created to look like another real news site but have a different domain name (typosquatting) to catch visitors who make typo's when entering a URL.

URL or Internet address

For example, a site may claim to be CNN but have a URL similar to one of the examples below.

http://cnn.fakenews.com/

In the above example, "cnn" is a subdomain of the domain "fakenews.com" and is in no way affiliated with CNN. A URL with the words "CNN" doesn't necessarily mean it was created by CNN.

http://cnn.com.co/

In the above example, "cnn" is the subdomain of the "com.co." domain. The ".co" is the domain suffix often used to confuse or help prevent detection from someone not paying attention to the domain name.

http://fakenews.com/cnn

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 fake news because of how high they ranked because of traffic they received. However, they've improved their algorithms and have a fact-check features from fact-checking sites like Snopes.com to help identify fake news.

Google results with fact-check for fake news example

Sensational headlines

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 other news sources do not report the story, it's 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.

The article is a typical 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 higher 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 help fact-check stories. A selection of these is listed below.

  • 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 and 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.
  • Quackwatch - Operated by Stephen Barrett, M.D., Quackwatch is a network of Web sites and mailing lists maintained by the Center for Inquiry. The sites focus on health frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct.
  • The Conspiracy Theory Handbook
Tip

Many libraries also have librarians to help you fact-check a store or website.

Use the WOT browser plugin

The WOT (Web of Trust) browser plugin can be added to most major browsers and help you know what pages on the Internet are safe, based on member feedback.

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 frequently posts fake news stories, consider hiding or unfollowing them. Also, if you don't want to see stories from a particular website, hide stories from that site.