The most appropriate adage for the 21st century should perhaps be this – just because you saw it on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
That could not apply more to the proliferation of fake news that spread across the Internet daily. Often created by dedicated “spoof news” websites and fuelled by social media who can’t keep fake news from spreading across their platforms, these stories fool hundreds of thousands. And the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
So, here are some tips to detecting fake news.
Evaluate the source
If you’ve read a story and want to know if the story is genuine, then evaluate the source of the story. If you’re reading it from a website, then you need determine if that site can be trusted. First of all, is it actually an online news outlet, or is it another of a growing number of “entertainment” or “satirical” websites (that we dub “fauxtire”) that publish barely believable news, but on a site that makes it appear just about plausible.
Does the site have a disclaimer?
These sites tend to have a disclaimer telling readers that the information on the site is for entertainment purposes, or is satirical in nature. Often these disclaimers are not readily available, and either in the footer of the webpage or on a separate “About” page.
What other news is the site publishing?
If you’re not sure or can’t find a disclaimer, then look at the homepage of the site. Are other stories published by the site equally as suspicious? If so, then the website obviously isn’t too concerned with publishing legitimate news, and anything it publishes should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Research the website
If all else fails, try Googling the website that published the story. There are tons of websites out there that archive all the fake news websites out there, letting you know who cannot be trusted. And if you can’t find any feedback for the website at all, that’s probably not a good thing.
Verify or Google the story
In the age of the Internet, there is no reason why you cannot verify any particular story you see on the Internet with trusted, reputable outlets, straight away. Big or popular stories will be published on legitimate outlets often within minutes or hours of them breaking, so if you need to corroborate a story, there is no reason not to head over to a reputable website to see if they can confirm the story you’re looking at.
If you don’t have a reputable site in mind, stick some keywords into Google. Google have a vast news section where all the legitimate media outlets will appear in. If Google can’t find any hits for a particular story, it’s probably not a real story.
If you’re looking at the only article touting a story on the Internet, or all the sources point to one place, then you should be sceptical.
It’s okay that you’re not a seasoned hoax debunker. Not many people are. But we all know some people who are that way inclined, whether it’s your veteran techie guy or that friend who always tells you when you’re wrong online.
And if you can’t think of anyone, we’re always here to help. You can ask questions on our Facebook page or just fire us an email.
Re-evaluate your approach to online news
We’ve outlined some effective tips to spotting fake news here, but perhaps the problem is fundamentally deeper than just needing to learn tricks and tips. It seems that many people simply just place too much confidence on what they see on the Internet, simply because they saw it on the Internet on a professional-looking website, and thus assumed it must be true.
We need to re-evaluate, and if need be, redefine our approach to the Internet. With the increasingly effortless methods of creating instant, professional looking websites, we need to understand that just about anyone can create a website with the appearance of being legitimate. Thus if we find ourselves falling for fake news too often, an entirely different approach is needed.
That approach can be a whitelist approach, and not a blacklist approach. A blacklist approach would be to trust all websites unless we can dismiss (blacklist) sites after discovering they cannot be trusted. Of course the problem here is that new fake news websites pop up all the time, so we’d be in a constant state of being fooled by newer websites. A whitelist approach would be to accumulate a collection of news sites you trust (your whitelist) and to not trust any other sites until you can demonstrate to yourself that they can indeed be trusted, by using the other tips on this page.
With the number of sites out there pushing fake news outnumbering their legitimate counterparts, this whitelist approach is a great way of approaching how you deal with getting your news online.