How to Spot Fake News
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Did you know that one third of Brits have fallen for a fake news story?
It's easily done, but there are ways to avoid it.
To help you out, we've put together this guide on what to look out for next time you're reading a news article online.
Firstly, check yourself
Before delving into the different signs of fake news, let’s talk a little bit about you and your biases.
As a human being with opinions we are all naturally biased to some extent. Consequently, it is our biases that make us susceptible to fake news.
We are more likely to believe a rumour about somebody we don’t like.
Don’t think that the creators of fake news don’t know this. They collect data on your beliefs and opinions in order to create targeted fake news, which appeal to your biases.
So, before believing a story, think: is it only true because I want it to be?
Unfamiliar website domains and URLs
Fake news articles usually have a strange URL and domain, this is the first sign of a fake news story.
This is the layout of a legitimate URL:
Ensuring that the website domain of a news story follows this format can help you figure out if it is a legitimate website and therefore if it’s trustworthy.
On the other hand, if the website ends in something like com.co or lo, then the website is most likely fake.
Another thing to be careful of, is when a website domain tries to impersonate a credible news sources, this can be done by creating a similar URL.
Real news: abcnews.go.com
Fake news: abcnews.com.co
These headlines are usually hyperbolic and cryptic, they try to reel you in.
Don’t fall for it, don’t click the link.
If you do, you won’t find what you’re looking for. The articles are unrelated adverts or stories.
That’s the thing with clickbait – it’s deceptive and misleading.
Now look at these examples:
They use catchy titles to pique your curiosity and get you invested in their stories.
So next time you see an article with a shocking headline, instead of clicking on that source, google the story see if others are reporting on it as well.
Photographs tend to be trusted, but what if the scenario they are portraying is fake?
Fake news articles tend to be backed up by fake images. Shocker, right?
The difficulty lies in learning to spot doctored images.
One thing you can do is a reverse image search. This means copying the photograph and pasting it into a search engine to then see if another version of the photograph appears elsewhere. If so, compare the two see if the one posted has been photoshopped or altered to fit with the news story.
Photoshop isn’t the only problem when it comes to images, as they can also be staged.
This means that the scene was artificially constructed and made with a purpose, meaning that you should be wary of photographs which seem too perfect.
For example, when Boris Johnson was campaigning for the 2019 election, his neighbours called the police after hearing him fight with his partner.
Coincidentally, a few days later this picture surfaced the internet.
Now, nobody can say for sure, but it definitely seems like a staged photograph, used to dispel rumours surrounding their relationship.
As well as doctoring images, fake news stories quote fake sources to make them seem more ‘reliable’.
Sources play a key role in creating credible news stories and cultivating trust. However, this is not the case with fake news, they use sources as a way to confirm their disinformation.
Since there have been thousands of fake news stories regarding Coronavirus, let’s look at one of them.
This article was posted on Facebook, where the lack of fake news regulation allowed for this story to be circulated.
Now let’s look at the source, Stephanie Seneff. It is true that she has a PhD, however, what they fail to mention is that the PhD is in computer science and that she has no experience in chemistry, agriculture, virology, biology or toxicology. Therefore making her an unreliable source and her ‘theory’ a mere conspiracy.
These types of news stories are everywhere. In fact, on Youtube, 25% of the most viewed videos on Covid contain misleading information.
This is why when reading a story, you should always verify the author and their sources.
This can be done by a simple Google search to ensure they are quoting real people, with the right qualifications.
You can go even further by looking up the author's other work to confirm their reliability as a writer.
Dates are important, they show that the news story is up to date and relevant.
News stories published out of context and time are a form of fake news.
They rely on the fact that the story is true and that there are reputable sources backing it. However, they fail to mention the date of the events, therefore making it irrelevant and misleading.
The Guardian aiming to raise awareness on this issue, tracked a story on Facebook where almost every February they saw a “sudden spike in referral from Facebook to a six-year-old-story about horse meat in a supermarket’s meat products.”
Since there is no date, there is no context, making it easy for people to believe that it is a current issue.
Lack of information about the news outlet
A reputable news website should have an About page and a Contact page.
Not having these or merely having a very generic description, is a bad sign; it means that they are not a serious news outlet.
So, you should definitely check out some more credible sources.
Verifying fake news
Sometimes, even when you follow all the steps and look for all the clues, you still can’t establish if it’s fake news or not.
Thankfully, there are websites which can fact check stories, including:
In addition, Neman Lab provides real reports on fake news stories.
Now that you can spot fake news, you can question it.
Remember to read the news consciously, and check out our resources for more information.
Not sure how to approach news exposure? Read through our guide on How to Read the News.