How to Recognize "Fake News"
"Fake news" items are fictional tales disguised to look and read like an actual news story. Sometimes the author is trying to be funny or satirical. Sometimes the motivation is to mislead and influence their readership to act or feel a certain way. Sometimes the motivation is to have you click on a link so that the author earns money. As readers we need to be able to distinguish between real news and stories which were created for another purpose. The following techniques will help you determine whether what you are reading is real or fantasy.
1. Examine the domain name. If it includes an extension of .ru (Russia), .co (Columbia), or .mk (Macedonia), raise your truth-detecting antennae. While fake news sites and stories originate all over the world, these countries have very active fake news producers. Most often the motivation is economic since they can make money with Google Adsense.
2. Check real news sites to see if they are carrying the story. If they are, there's a better chance that the story has some basis in fact, although traditional news outlets have occasionally been fooled like the rest of us.
3. Do a search on 'name of site hoax', 'name of site satire', and 'name of site fake' to see if the site has already been debunked.
4. Check the domain name for misspelled words (The Stately Harold) or long titles which incorporate the name of legitimate news outlet. "Spoofers" try to pick up customers with such techniques.
5. Check with Snopes.com for their list of updated fake news sites. Here's a short list of some of the often visited fake news sites. New ones pop up all the time.
- National Report
- Empire News
- Empire Sports
- The Daily Currant
- Wyoming Institute of Technology
- World News Daily Report
- News Examiner
- The Reporterz
- The Daily Mail
- The Sun
- The National Enquirer
- WTOE 5 News
- Boston Tribune
6. Check other stories on the site. Are the titles fantastic or outlandish? "5-year-old Finds Cure for Cancer" "My Martian Baby" Be wary.
7. Check for a disclaimer. Look on the 'About' page, in the footer, and on the 'Home' page. Some sites post a disclaimer to tell readers that the stories are satirical or for entertainment purposes only. Anything you bother to read on these sites is to be taken in the spirit of fun only. Legitimate sites do not need disclaimers because they are reporting actual happenings.
8. If the story features any of the following, beware: an anonymous author; excessive exclamation points, capital letters and misspellings; entreaties that "This is NOT a hoax!"; and links to sourcing that does not support or completely contradicts the claims being made.
9. Fact check, fact check, fact check.
10. Visit the following sites to see if the story has been debunked: FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and PolitiFact.com
11. Read beyond the headline to check the tone and sourcing cited by the article.
12. Check the author. If there is no byline, you should be immediately on your guard. Other times the name given is a play on words or farcical. Search on the author's name to find out if the person even exists. Find out who they are and what their expertise is (Legitimate journalist? Doctor? Lawyer?).
13. Check any sources claimed in the article. Fake news stories often invent polls, studies, organizations, government acts, bills, court decisions, executive orders and the like to make their story seem real.
14. Check the date of the supposed news. Is it current or is this a rehash of an old story which has now been recycled and presented as something new?
15. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is telling me this?
- How do they know?
- Is it possible they are wrong?
- If answer to last question is "yes", find another source.
- Repeat until answer to 3 is "no".
16. Be aware of "confirmation bias". This occurs when you see a headline that confirms one of your own opinions and then automatically accept the story as true. Smart writers of fake news know people are prone to confirmation bias and use it to their advantage. Remember, writers of fake news are making their living off of the ad revenue they generate by having you read and share their fake story.
17. Your gut reaction to the story should help you winnow out fake news stories. If you find yourself becoming extremely mad or fearful, watch out. Clearly the story is being told in a way such that it is emotionally provoking.
18. Is the story a prediction of some dire future outcome or event particularly if it gives a date for the supposed calamity? Is the story about a miraculous cure for a deadly disease? Most stories of this ilk are just click-bait so the author can make a few bucks.
19. Check what known experts in the field of interest are saying. If the story is about a medical advance, check with the National Institutes of Health or the Mayo Clinic and see what their site says about the topic.
20. Truth is not created by the frequency of the telling. Just because numerous sites have a story does not make the information factual. As an example, politicians frequently use this technique of "creating" truth; they repeat what they want you to believe over and over. They know most people will accept something they have heard often whether it is true or not. Apply the techniques listed above to determine whether or not the story is true.
21. And finally, please don't press "send" to re-tweet, share on Facebook, or forward an e-mail of dubious information. You don't want to share lies, hoaxes, rumors, and distortions and become a purveyor of fake news yourself.