The last few years have brought many changes to the world, and one of the most sinister are fake news stories meant to grab the public’s attention and scare people or mislead them into believing something that isn’t true. Although many news stories are well researched and factual, others are oozing with bias and sentiment intended to sway the opinion of the reader. Some stories are downright false, reporting blatant lies to get attention.
Regardless of the reason, sifting through fake news and real may be challenging for the untrained eye. According to the Pew Research Center, citizens below the age of 50 get half of their news online. TV has become a minor player when it comes to reporting, and that is part of the problem. The internet is an open forum where news standards are not enforced or observed, and anyone can say pretty much anything and claim it’s real and true.
Along with TV and online news, there is radio, newspapers, word-of-mouth, and social media sources that help to circulate fake news stories.
Different Types of Fake News
Not all fake news is entirely false. Sometimes they sprinkle in some actual facts but then use those to fortify their own opinions or agenda. Either way, the result is the same.
There are a few critical differences in the types of fake news stories that you might encounter.
When a socially conscious group, political facet, or other type of organization wants to convince others of their position, they may create fake news stories. In hopes that no one with verify the details, these are typically full of downright lies with no ties to anything substantial or real.
Fake News Goes Viral with Shocking Headlines
The purveyors of fake news use shocking headlines to get readers to click and open the story. Often the content doesn’t even have anything to do with the headline. It was merely clickbait to get you to click so that someone could make money through ads. Sometimes they simply want to lure visitors to a malicious website and infect their computers will malware.
According to Factcheck.Org, some of the telltale signs that a piece of news is fiction are:
- An anonymous author.
- Excessive exclamation points.
- Capital letters and misspellings.
- Entreaties that “This is NOT a hoax!”
- Links to sources that do not exist or completely contradicts the claims being made.
Although these are helpful tips, some fake news sites are more sophisticated and look quite convincing.
Social Media Ads and Stories
Social media is a great way to spread the word, and when one interesting, misleading, or false story gets shared, it can go viral within hours. The very temporary nature of social media means that almost no one bothers to verify the accuracy of the story before clicking and sharing it over and over.
Satire or Jokes
Some misinformation or “fake news” is actually someone’s attempt at humor. They may be making fun of something, but if even one person takes it seriously, then the intent has been missed, and the lies may be spread around as fact. An excellent example of satirical news is The Onion.
How to Spot Fake News and Fact Check
Thankfully before you become the victim of fake news and risk your reputation by sharing it, you can take some steps to verify that it is accurate.
Verify the Publisher and Author
Examine the domain name. Often fraudsters will use domain names similar to the real ones to trick visitors. Check the About Us page to see who the publisher is and what they are about. Check out the author’s bio, find his/her email and check the email address online in order to get detailed information about the writer. Is their email linked to a Gmail account or a legitimate business email affiliated with the online news outlet?
Most credible news websites have domains which end in .mil, .gov, .edu, and .org. Fake websites may use domains like .net, and others. Search LinkedIn for the publication name and online. If you don’t see any other related material, it could be fake.
Poor Grammar is a Big Red Flag
If the story is replete with spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, this is a big indication that it’s fake. Most reputable publications have editors who do not publish stories until they are perfect.
Use Critical Thinking
Take a moment to think about the message itself. Ask yourself a few critical questions to determine the legitimacy of the information:
- Who profits from what they are selling?
- What are they really saying?
- Can you find the same story told on other news websites?
- What is the date of the story? Does it seem recycled?
- Is there any clear bias to the story?
- Does the story tell only one side or both?
- Is the story actually an advertisement?
- Is someone paying for the content?
By evaluating every piece of content, you read in this way; you will find that a lot of it doesn’t even make sense and has no business being passed off as real news.
If the headline grabbed you, read a bit of the story to see if it matches or if it was clickbait to get you in the door. That should tell you all you need to know.
Check the Sources
Often these “fake news” stories will cite graphics or sources for information. Some even produce charts of data. But be very careful. Many use the names of fictitious government agencies that do not exist. Often you can find real statistics from credible government sources or public records to substantiate the claims or dispel them as false.
Legitimate news sources will always link to credible sources and additional details. They may also include links to surveys, quotes from experts, and facts that are clearly facts.
Also, look for faked or blurry images. Often “fake news” will doctor up an image to make it look real, but it’s been fabricated to trick you. Use the Google Reverse Image tool to check for faked photos.
Use Real Trusted Sources to Get the Whole Story
Not only can you consult government websites, court records, military portals, and other official sources, but there are fact-checking websites like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and PolitiFact.com. All of these resources are designed to help people determine whether or not a story is true. Educational and non-profit organizations have websites that are chock full of useful information you can use to track down the truth.
If you cannot find information using one of those, do a few deep Google searches to see if the story is backed up anywhere else. If not, it is probably a good idea to pass it off as fake news or someone’s idea of a joke.
Today you must be more discerning than ever before to get the truth and the real facts without a slanted view. Heated political agendas often color much of what we see and hear on TV and online. By taking a few minutes to verify the facts, you can confidently be in the know without looking foolish by spreading more fake news.