5 Tips to Differentiate Real News From Fake News

An epidemic of fake news continues to sweep the nation, and lots of smart minds are grappling with how to tackle this widespread misinformation. But what can you do on a daily basis? Do you know how to spot fake news, or do you feel a little bit lost at sea?

These five tips will help you identify suspect stories — and encourage you to dig deeper.

1. Examine the metadata

Before you start reading a story, take the time to check out the context, because it can often be revealing.

Who wrote the story, and can you follow their bio to a social media presence, other work or similar indicators that they’re a real person?

What is the story about? Is the premise clearly defined in the headline? Does it seem too good to be true?

When was it published? A surprising amount of fake news isn’t fake — it’s just out of date, and being recirculated.

Where is it published? Does the name look familiar? Be careful — some fake news sites pick names similar to those of reputable media outlets. Politifact maintains a list of fake news sites.

How is the story told? Is there an obvious slant? Is the headline designed to provoke a strong emotion? Bias isn’t necessarily bad, but it should be transparent — and backed by good reporting.

2. Mind your bias

Media isn’t the only thing that’s biased — so are we. Thanks to a phenomenon known as confirmation bias, people seek out information that validates their beliefs, and reject information that doesn’t. Peddlers of fake news prey on that by telling us what we want to hear.

To pick a less politically-charged example, let’s say you really hate grapes and think they’re disgusting. An article claiming “scientists say” there are health risks associated with eating grapes feeds your confirmation bias — you might click “share” without looking that closely. You’re less likely to exercise due diligence because the story feeds your existing attitudes.

Now imagine that example with bigger stake — fake news sites specifically play into political attitudes on both the left and right. Think Secretary Hillary Clinton is a horrible person? That article about how she did something really reprehensible seems legitimate. Believe President Donald Trump is the worst person on Earth? You might be quick to share that story about how he made a terrible policy decision.

Be honest about your own bias and how it affects the way you read, interpret and share news.

A person reading a newspaper.

Photo credit: Chris Clogg

3. Check your references

If a piece is presented as original reporting, it should include quotes from experts. Look up the people being quoted: What are their professional affiliations? Do you think someone from Americans United for Life is a good source on abortion risks?

If a source is anonymous, is there a good reason? And what’s the publication’s track record on anonymous sources? Has it been accused of failing to verify quotes? Try searching “Publication Name fake anonymous sources.”

When the piece cites scientific research, it should provide a link to the study or enough information for you to find it on your own. That study, in turn, should be published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal and show signs of scientific rigor.

Any laws referenced should be cited by bill number, preferably with a link so readers can see the text of the bill for themselves.

In cases where articles contain statistics, take the time to double check with a reputable source. For example, the U.S. Census has demographic data, while the FBI maintains crime statistics.

A newstand modified to read FAKE NEWS.

Photo credit: opposition24.de

4. Read the whole thing

News flashes through clogged feeds so quickly that many of us — including yours truly — are tempted to “like” or “share” without clicking through. After all, the headline may seem real, and the person who posted it appears trustworthy. We all need to stop this bad habit, because sometimes reading through reveals that an article is blatantly fake.

Maybe the title is a bait-and-switch. Or perhaps the article is satire. In other cases, the content of the article may simply be of very poor quality. These problems, and others, will become apparent with even a quick skim, and reading before sharing can help stop viral fake news in its tracks.

5. Consider who stands to gain or lose from the article

Whether financially or socially, someone may come out ahead from an article. Learning to look for that can offer important insights into the validity of the reporting. Reputable publications are transparent about their funding. They should also display their biases in their mission statements, which can help you form judgments about their content.

If a known liberal publication prints something that makes conservatives look good, that’s a positive sign — they’re reporting equitably on an issue. If a site known for propagating conspiracy theories publishes something that benefits advertisers, that’s an indicator that the article may not be the real deal.

It takes time to learn to spot the signs of fake news — and when in doubt, always fall back on a valuable research tool: independent verification.

Even if a story feels right, take the time to search for it online. Other versions with different sources and information should be available. If they aren’t, or if multiple articles all seem to reference each other, that’s a sign that something may be rotten at the core of the story you’re reading.

Photo credit: Evgeny Belikov

90 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill7 months ago

There is a LOT of fake news out there, about everyone!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE9 months ago

Thanks you

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JT Smith
Past Member 9 months ago

I simply don't trust corporate media. That's why I like sites like FAIR.org [Fairness Accuracy In Reporting] that delve into the stories published by corporate media and not only point out the errors but also CITE THEIR SOURCES, including previous stories by the same author/publication that says something so very different about the exact same topic.

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Danuta W
Danuta W9 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Callie R
Callie R9 months ago

Thank you.

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Brandy S
Brandy S9 months ago

Thanks.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E9 months ago

If someone like brian f heard that Ms. Clinton had been arrested from a source like MSNBC, CNN or ??? He would cheer and look no further. We ALL have our biased outlooks but if you are jaded that you can't source truth for yourself, then it really doesn't matter WHAT the news says. Like trying to believe trump when you KNOW he lies more than he tells truth. If you hear the same information on 9 out of 10 different sources, chances are it is true or actually happened. THINK for yourselves.

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Ben O
Ben O9 months ago

Think for yourself...

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Laura R
Laura R9 months ago

Thank you.

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers9 months ago

Thanks.

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