Spotting fake news can be difficult. Even people who are aware of the damage that fake news can cause may not realize they’re reading or viewing fake news until a friend or a legitimate media outlet identifies the bogus report for them.
These tips will highlight the subtle indications of falsehoods people can look for in the news they consume and the vetting required to identify fake news and stop it from spreading.
Check the history and reputation of the author and publication
If an article is being shared on Facebook or Twitter, you can see immediately the publication where the article originated. Browse to the publication’s site to view past articles on the same or similar topics. Red flags are raised if the articles share a certain political viewpoint, if they are riddled with typos or grammatical errors, or if they are all written by the same author.
Most fake news sites are fly-by-night operations that have existed for only a few weeks or months. Knowing when a site’s domain was registered can help to identify fake news. Find out how long a site has been around by entering its address in the Domain Age Checker run by Website SEO Checker. If a site is sharing a popular article that is attempting to disgrace a politician running for office in 2020, for example, but the website itself has existed for a short time, it’s likely that the article and site are not trustworthy.
Determine whether other outlets are reporting the same news
When a big news event occurs, multiple media organizations will report it, even when they didn’t break the story. Search for other publications that have posted stories about the event or topic. If no other news outlets are reporting the story, be skeptical about the accuracy of the article or video.
Be leery of sensational headlines
Fake news is designed to strike an immediate emotional chord in audiences by using an alarming headline. Often people share such a story based solely on the headline, without even reading the article itself. If a headline attacks a newsworthy figure, seems outlandish, or simply lacks the ring of truth, search the internet for reliable sources that confirm the accuracy of the story and the headline (which are often written by two different people).
Carefully scrutinize photos and other media that accompany the stories
A favorite technique of fake news purveyors is the use of eye-catching images or videos. While a picture can be worth a thousand words, it is worthless — and potentially damaging — if the image is intended to mislead viewers rather than inform them.
If you see a shocking or particularly engaging photo or video in an article, take a moment to determine whether the media pertains to the main gist of the story or is intended solely to incite an emotional reaction in readers. Use a service such as Tin Eye to conduct a reverse image search. This search will show where else on the web the image appears, and it will indicate whether the image has been tampered with. For many video clips that go viral, there is additional video footage that either isn’t shown or hasn’t yet been published that tells a different story. Photos that support a certain stance or viewpoint are sometimes staged or digitally edited to misrepresent the true content. In both instances it can be difficult to tell real from unreal.
Evaluate the trustworthiness of the immediate source of the image, the person who shared the media, and the outlet where it was originally published. A little time spent researching might show whether any of these sources has a particular agenda, or whether the person who captured or shared the photo could be spreading misinformation, intentionally or unintentionally.
Consider the reasons why this person is sharing this news with you at this time
One of the wonders of the digital age is that it has brought people with like-minded ideas and values together across communities, across the country, and across the world. However, digital technology has also led to a digital bubble for many people, who receive news and information only from sources that reinforce their existing biases and beliefs.
Social media users with strong political leanings may not immediately recognize that their Facebook friends who echo those viewpoints are spreading fake news. Just as with people over age 65 being the most susceptible to sharing fake news, it’s possible that individuals who share your worldview might be knee-jerk sharing without properly vetting the source of the information.
Make sure the story isn’t intended to be humorous
As previously stated, The Onion is widely known as a humor site that has pilloried politicians and celebrities for decades, first as a print publication established in 1988, and since 1996 on the web. However, many people may not be aware that The Onion is satirical, so they may share its articles believing them to be real and failing to identify them as satire.
Before sharing a questionable or suspicious looking news item, consider that it may be intended to be satirical or humorous.
Do some research to determine whether there are any facts to support bold claims you hear on TV
Although fake news is closely identified with social media, television remains a powerful tool for spreading misinformation. Regardless of how well trusted a TV news source or network may be, look deeper into questionable facts or statements espoused on the medium before accepting the information as true.
The vast majority of the journalists and publishing professionals at print and broadcast media organizations are hard-working and talented individuals, but they are still prone to occasional mistakes that require corrections and retractions. Take the time to make sure that the news presented by these sources is corroborated and verifiable.
Be a voice that helps stop the spread of fake news
Raise awareness within your digital circle of family, friends, and associates about the dangers of fake news. If you notice that someone is sharing fake news, speak up. Alert the person and their audience that the “news” item they posted or shared is false. Tell them about the tips and resources in this guide so they will know how to identify fake news and help combat it.
Combatting Your Own Media Biases and Opinions
Beyond identifying fake news on media platforms, people must recognize that their own biases and opinions can influence their response to reliable information as well as to material whose authenticity is questionable.
Be aware of your own political biases when trying to spot fake news
Imagine a military conflict erupts between two countries in Africa. A person from one of those countries might find themselves engaging only in media that supports their own viewpoint. Even someone who is well educated may find their news consumption is one-sided, and thus they may fail to understand the full-scope of the conflict.
Every person has biases, from the political parties and causes they support, to preferences over which news sources and media outlets they favor. Recognizing their own biases can help students effectively spot fake news.
Know that even the most reputable news organizations have biases and commit errors
Fox News is conservative. MSNBC is liberal. Every media source has some bias, but this doesn’t mean they are reporting fake news. Even Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who break big stories that accurately inform the world about important events and issues have some biases. While these beliefs make them more susceptible to occasional errors and create blind spots in their perception of a story, it doesn’t rise to the level of fake news, which is created with the intent to deceive by using misinformation or downright lies.
The key is how quickly a media outlet responds when a report is erroneous and the steps it takes to set the record straight. People should be aware that even though reputable news organizations occasionally make mistakes, they are still trustworthy. A news organization that fails to acknowledge and correct its mistakes will cause all of its reporting to come into question.
Expand your digital horizons to include diverse voices and opinions
People need to seek out reliable sources that express diverse opinions and represent varied perspectives on current events to educate themselves about different viewpoints on issues. Sometimes these sources aren’t digital, but flesh-and-blood.
In the digital era, when peoples’ attention bounces from one screen to the next, it is imperative that they strive to connect with others in real life. Face-to-face remains the most effective way to share new ideas and political perspectives. Being trained to seek out the full spectrum of facts and opinions on a matter makes people better prepared to identify and stop fake news.