8 Steps to Spot Fake News

by Pratyush Dhawan & Gurraj Ahluwalia

The ability to create blogs and spread stories has never been so easy. With the increasing worries about a surge of ‘Fake News’ in online publications, being a critically aware reader is a necessity. These concerns are not new – the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and propaganda online is as old as digital media itself. Fake news can be published through various digital media such as videos, social media, advertising and blogs.

Here are 8 simple steps you can take to ensure that you don’t fall for fake news that pops up on social media or your favourite news source.

1. Consider the source

Where was the story published? Has it been republished from any other source? It’s important to click away from the story to investigate the website that’s publishing it, and why they may be publishing it. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, check their mission and their contact info. These small pieces of information can quickly help you figure out whether the story is legitimate or simply meant to trigger false outrage or spread lies.

2. Read past the headline

This is a good rule of thumb for any article, but especially important if the title seems inflammatory. Headlines can make people extremely emotional as a way of enticing more clicks. It’s important to get the whole story before coming to false or misinformed conclusions on what actually happened.

3. Check the author

Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real? If the article doesn’t have an author, then consult another source. In some instances, you may know the website to be a credible source of information, but the story may still be false.

4. Are there supporting sources?

If the story appears to be particularly provocative, check other news sources to see if they have reported it too. If a story appears only on one site, or doesn’t seem to be replicated on other credible sources of information, then it may be unverified and potentially false.

5. Check the date

A common fake news strategy is to repost old stories on social media or change the headline to conform to current events. Always check the original date on the article. This can usually be found right underneath the title next to the author’s name, or below the article. Old stories are often used to reignite outrage against certain people or groups as a way of promoting the idea that many one-time occurrences are continuing to happen. This can lead many to believe a false narrative that a problem is ongoing or growing.

6. Is it a joke?

Consider whether the news you’re reading seems far too outlandish or hysterical. It might be satire. Research the site and author to be certain that the truth isn’t being stretched.

7. Check your own biases

One of the most effective ways that fake news goes viral is by playing to people’s preconceived notions about issues – their beliefs, opinions and emotions. Check whether your judgement is being solely affected by your beliefs on the issue, and see how the story is being reported elsewhere to see if facts have been left out or distorted.

8. Do some basic fact-checking

Fact-checking is sometimes difficult, especially with large or complicated stories. One way is to do some basic research – ask an expert, consult online sources of information, or go to your local library. If the story is about a particular subject, ask a friend or coworker who has in-depth knowledge about the subject. Always double-check with trusted online or community resources.

Other non-political websites that can help greatly with determining whether a story is fake or not are FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com and Snopes.com. These sites are specifically set up to find the evidence behind a claim, and will have other sources that you can consult to ensure that you’re not being duped.

Now you’re ready to take on Fake News!

And remember, Fake News and other types of propaganda are designed to trap even the smartest of us into believing falsehoods. Those who promote Fake News are usually trying to drum up outrage for more clicks on their sites or are using misinformation as a tool for ideological purposes. With the steps outlined above, you can easily combat them and take control by verifying a story yourself.

Being able to distinguish true information from misinformation is a valuable skill, and one that can be learned very quickly. Going through these steps will help you in the future to make sure your access to the right information isn’t being blocked.