If you’ve kept up with your social media accounts in the past year, you have probably seen news headlines such as “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide,” “Pope Francis Endorses Donald Trump for President,” or “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa and Mexico.”
Collectively these stories received 3,940,000 shares, comments, and reactions on Facebook and, according to BuzzFeed News, they were the top three fake political news stories shared on Facebook last year.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It can be traced all the way back to yellow journalism of the 1890s. It has, however, become a much larger issue with the advancement of technology. Almost anyone can share news over the internet — real or fake. Fake news stories can sometimes be difficult to identify and circulate very quickly.
To differentiate between credible news sources and fake news, examine the domain and URL of the article, read the “About Us” section of the website, pay attention to the quotes in the story and who said them, check comments on social media and run a reverse image search on photos attached to the story.
The website URL and domain can be an easy indicator of a fake news site. Website addresses ending in .com.co should raise a red-flag. If the web address reads abcnews.com.co, it is a fake site posing as ABC News.
Website URLS ending in “lo” should also raise a red-flag and are commonly sources of fake news.
If the domain has a strange name, it’s probably a strange site.
If the URL and domain seem to check-out, most sites will have an “About Us” section that can credit or discredit the site. This section should give a simple overview of the company who runs the site, the leadership team, and a mission and ethics statement. If it seems over the top, it may not be a credible site.
Within the story itself, examine the quotes. A credible story should have multiple quotes by several different people who are experts in their field or a primary source pertaining to the story. Look at what was said and by whom. If the story claims the source was a professor, they should come up on a simple Google search. If an outrageous statement was said by a well-known individual such as a politician, it should be easy to find more information on the subject from other sources. If the quote is extreme, it should be mentioned in more than one publication.
If the article was shared on social media, look at the comments. A false article will usually be called out by perceptive readers in the comments.
You can also do a reverse-image search on the images attached to the article. Fake news stories often lack original photos. To run a reverse-image search, right click on the photo and click “search Google for image.”
If the photo is used with a lot of other stories, especially with different topics, then the image is probably not what the article claims it is.
Watch out for stories written as satire and use humor, irony and exaggeration to ridicule or criticize current events. Some sites, like The Onion, are entirely dedicated to writing satirical stories.
Other fake news warning signs include lack of an author, bad site design, the use of caps lock or excessive punctuation and the unavailability of other stories over the same subject from other organizations. Even if a story is brushed over by the mainstream media, if it is a real event, there should be other articles published on the subject.
It is also important to keep in mind fake news is defined as entirely made-up stories — not just any report you don’t like or disagree with.