Is This News Story Fake? Here's How to Tell

By Amanda Meadows on 13 December 2016 0 comments

Fake news has become an issue with real life consequences in recent years. Regardless of your politics, you don't want to be the dummy who shares a conspiracy theory from NewzGuzzlers.info, do you? That's just embarrassing. Here are six ways to determine if your news source is real or fake:

1. Scrutinize the URL

You might wonder if that's just a cosmetic detail — There are so many desirable URLs that are already taken, so why not trust a website with a strange name? Well, they're not all just weird-sounding. Many are downright misleading.

For example, look at WashingtonPost.com.co. Catch that extra ".co" at the end? That's just one way a fake news publisher can piggyback on the credibility of an established outlet. Many people might not see it, and are swayed enough by the clickbait that they overlook it. If the name is similar to a real source, open a new tab and look at the original.

Bias Alert! Just as well, look for biased keywords in the URL. CoolLiberals.net or ConservativeEagle.web are clearly names that suggest a hard lean to one set of ideologies. While it might not be 100% fake news, these sites usually take a kernel of real news from a credible outlet, removing important context and replacing it with baseless opinion.

2. Look up the Author

Before you continue reading an article you're suspicious of, ask this: Who wrote the article, and why? If the piece was written by "staff" or "anonymous," those are red flags. Many fake news websites use pseudonyms, or the article might show up as written by "staff" because all the articles are going through one administrator on a bare-bones website. If there is an author name near the top of the page, Google them. If you can't find a website, Twitter account, Wikipedia page, or bio of them on the Internet that match the information on the article byline (a brief writer bio hosted by the website in question), they may not be a real person.

Bias Alert! If the article or video is from a real person, look at their writing history across the Internet. Do they all fit a narrative strongly for/against an idea, a person, or group of people? Do they consider themselves a "truther" for something? That's a sign that they care more about pushing an agenda than the facts. Google what reporters and academic experts say about the topic before you decide if they are a reputable source.

3. Check the Quotes

Quotes are key. If an article is being shared as news but does not cite any persons in quotes, that is a big red flag. If the writer has reported on a real news event with no citations, it's really an opinion article and should be taken with a grain of salt. If it's supposedly "exposing" a new event or making an accusation without any citations or quotes, it's definitely fake news. If you want to verify whether a statement from a public official is true or not, always check PolitiFact.

Bias Alert! Having quotes in a story does not make it true. Remember what we learned from #PizzaGate and Google any names mentioned in the article to see if they are real public figures. If the source is cited as "anonymous" or someone "close" to the perpetrators in question, be suspicious. That brings us to…

4. Google the Claim

If you can't believe the headline, or it feels too irresistibly good to be true, it's probably at least somewhat false. Take the keywords of the headline and Google them to see if any major news outlets have written about it. Is it on your local news at 10 p.m.? If the only other outlets making the claim are similarly other off-brand news sites like "NationalTimes" or "Newspeople," you've got a fake headline. Google it before your friends have to debate you on Facebook. But beware: Don't believe Google's autocomplete, as that can actually make it even harder to find the correct news and take you deeper down a rabbit hole of lies.

Bias Alert! Was this tip upsetting because you don't trust the "Mainstream Media" with basic fact-checking? That is actually a bias. If you only read websites that only tell you what you believe, you have set yourself up for misinformation.

5. Read the Comments

After you've tried the above methods, scroll to the bottom for the comments. Do you see a lot of people sharing links to other conspiracies? Do you see people saying "This is fake!" or "This has been debunked?" That's a good sign that you've got fake news. Again, try Googling the claim to be sure.

Bias Alert! Did the headline make you feel strongly in any way? In the comments, do you see posts with strong feelings of anger and calls for action to hurt or target someone or a group of people? That's a sign that, at the very least, the article you're reading was designed to prey on readers' emotions and biases so they may overlook factual errors or missing context.

6. Use These Browser Extensions

Finally, another great way to combat the spread of fake news is to install a browser app that will help alert you that a website you're viewing might be a fake news site. If you use Google Chrome (which I recommend), download the apps B.S Detector, or Fake News Alert. These will both help you in the moment with pop-up warnings as you land on any fake news or otherwise suspicious websites.

Bias Alert! While having these bots helping you suss out poor websites is very helpful in the short-term, you shouldn't only trust pop-ups. Learn how to tell real from fake on your own. Even when reading a news outlet like The Washington Post or The New York Times, you might run into a piece that is biased, or missing information, or using a source you have reason to suspect is not credible. These fake news-identifying skills are useful throughout your media consuming life.

What to do next? Whenever you see a Facebook friend share an onerous fake news link, flag it as false news so Facebook can drop it from its feeds. Friends don't let friends share fake news!

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