Many Facebook users will have noticed a notification on their newsfeed in the last week about spotting fake news.
It is a part of the social networks attempt to prevent fake news stories from going viral across their platform.
The notification links to an article on Facebook that explained how to spot fake news stories before you click share. We take a look at their 10 points and expand on each one.
Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
This is called clickbait and is popular with fake news websites. The idea used by many fake news sites is to create a story that is both absurd yet just about believable since it is those stories that are most likely to be both believed and shared. So if a headline seems too catchy or ridiculous, then this should immediately be setting of alarm bells.
Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
A popular method of mimicking the URL of genuine media outlets is by using different extensions. For examples, com.co is the top level extension (TLD) for Columbia, but many fraudsters registered reputable media outlet addresses with this extension, for example URLs like NBC.com.co, to trick visitors. So remember to check the URL carefully to see if it actually belongs to the media outlet it is purported to be from.
Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.
We’ve said before that we need to whitelist websites we trust as opposed to blacklist websites we know to be fake, due to the sheer number of fake news websites popping up every day. Before we trust a site, we need to make sure if publishes legitimate news. Check the About section as fake news sites often concede their news is satire or “for entertainment purposes” on their about page. Check other stories the site publishes to see if they’re genuine as well.
Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
Many of these sites just plaster as many adverts on their pages as possible making reading difficult. Legitimate media outlets shouldn’t be making too many spelling or grammar errors so keep an eye out!
Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
If a photo is relevant to the article, perform a reverse image search at images.google.com to see if the image appears elsewhere on the Internet. Often fake stories take photos of people and give them different, made-up identities to suit their fake article.
Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
In an attempt to make their news appear “breaking”, the publication date may be set to dynamically change to either today’s or yesterday’s date.
Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
Fake news will not present any sources or evidence for their articles, and will often use made up names when quoting “experts”. You can use Google to check on the names of people mentioned in an article to see if they really exist or said the things they claim to have said.
Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
Google the headline to see if the same story appears in at least one site you know and trust, whether it’s a known national or local media outlet. More often than not, ‘Googling’ fake news headlines just returns the same website you saw the story on, and not much else.
Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
Again, check the About page or elsewhere on the site (e.g. footer) to see if the article has a disclaimer claiming it is satire or entertainment. Many websites don’t really attempt to make their content funny, but still call it satire as a justification for printing the story. We call that fauxtire. The aim is still to trick people.
Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
While many fake news article deliberately try to be just about believable, it doesn’t mean they should be trusted. The more absurd a story is, the more you need to critically analyse and check up on it. Exceptional claims need exceptional evidence, and if you think you may be looking at a fake story, you probably are.
Remember, we all need to be responsible for the information we choose to share with our friends on social media. We all need to do our part; otherwise we diminish the amazing power we harness at our fingertips that we call the Internet.