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

Updated: 01/24/2018 by Computer Hope

Fake news became a hot topic in the United States 2016 elections as fake news spread like wild fire 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 click bait 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, check who the author of the article is and other stories they have written.

Tip: You can usually find more about a website through the About Us link often found at the bottom of every page.

Read the domain name

Some websites may be setup to appear to be another real news site but have a different domain name or are typosquatting a domain to help 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. Just because the URL has the words "CNN" doesn't mean it is from CNN.

http://cnn.com.co/

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.

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 of the fake news because of how high they ranked some of the fake news sites getting a lot of traffic. However, since 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.

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 the story is not reported by other news sources it is more than likely fake news.

Also, read more than just the headline. It is not uncommon for some websites to have a misleading headline that doesn't tell the whole story to get you to visit the page.

Tip: If the story is outlandish consider 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 Web of Trust (WOT) browser plugin can be added to most major browsers and can help you know what pages on the Internet are safe based off 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 other 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.
  • Attack or threat of an attack by an organization, country, or person.

Check with fact checking websites

There are many places on the Internet that can help you fact check stories and although you'll find many of these pages in Google results you can still visit these pages to assist in determining if a story is true.

  • 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 to monitor the factual accuracy of what's being said in the by political players 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.