How To Spot Fake News

Category: Reference

It’s getting harder to tell what’s true and false on the Internet, in social media, email, and on web sites. There are many con artists out there, and they become ever more sophisticated in their efforts to manipulate your perceptions, opinions, and most of all, your behavior. Here are some tips to help you tell truth from fiction, and avoid becoming someone’s puppet...

Truth or Fiction?

First ask, “Who wrote it?” Most reliable news articles, memes, email campaigns, etc., include the name, bio, and affiliation of their authors. If you can’t examine the source, the information should be viewed skeptically. A Google search of an author’s name should provide significant results, which should be examined critically.

It’s hard to fake a substantial Google history. A blue check mark next to a Facebook or Twitter profile indicates that the social media network has verified the identity of a person or organization; but that does not mean the verified entity is trustworthy. One recent example involved ABC reporter Brian Ross, who made erroneous statements regarding Michael Flynn and President Trump. Did bias blind him, or did he just not bother to vet his sources in a rush to be first to break the story?

Does the headline match the article? Con artists know that people often share articles without actually reading them. Don’t be one of those people. A headline that makes an incendiary claim may be attached to an article that does not support the claim. Read thoroughly and critically before sharing, or you may end up the object of scorn among your friends who do. Worse, you may end up complicit in victimizing others with fake news.

how to spot fake news

Check the source’s domain name, using or ICANN to look up DNS registration info. Often, the true owner of a domain is protected by having a gatekeeper complete the registration info. But you can still glean useful info from the record. If a domain was just registered recently, be skeptical. If a site that focuses on USA news is registered in a foreign country, wonder why.

If a site is mimicking an established news organization by registering its domain name in another top-level domain, have nothing to do with it. Be especially wary of news sites using the ".CO" domain. (now defunct) was a source of many fake news stories during the 2016 elections. Similarly, “” is not “” even if the sites look nearly identical.

Don't be Duped by Dubious Depictions

Fake news often comes in the form of fake photos. See my recent article Fake News and Fake Photos for tips on verifying the authenticity of images that circulate widely on social media outlets.

Have you seen headlines on Facebook that say "Southwest Airlines is celebrating their 50th anniversary by providing 2 free tickets to everyone"? It's an obvious scam, and the link takes you to (note the missing "h"), a phony site that prompts visitors to take a short survey to get the free tickets.

Ask yourself "Is this article satire?" The most outrageous articles often are. They often start out believable, then make ever more ridiculous claims. The astute reader will reach a point of incredulity and say, “This can’t be real! Can it?” Your threshold of outrage that prompts such questions should be rather low. Check the article carefully for clear statements like “this is satire.” Check the site's “about” page to see if it declares that it publishes satire.

Has the “news” been widely reported independently of the article you’re reading? An upstart web site is unlikely to have a scoop on significant breaking news. Search Google News for other articles on the subject. If they cite only the article you’re questioning, they’re useless. If there are no other independent sources of “news,” it is probably phony.

Checking the Facts

Scientific claims should be specific and provide links to the research paper(s) they cite. “According to a recent study…” is utterly inadequate. A significant research topic will be studied by many reputable researchers. Even if a cited study has been “peer-revieved” in a scientific journal, you should be skeptical about the quality of that journal and its peer-review process. The journal aggregation site SciMagOJr can help your vet a journal’s reliability.

Check the fact-checkers; they are invaluable resources in this age of rampant fake news. is still busting myths every day. (If you don't trust Snopes, try another myth-busting site such as Hoax-Slayer or TruthOrFiction.)PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for its debunking of political phonies. The International Fact Checking Network verifies many claims on global issues.

It is in your best interest to verify the accuracy of what you choose to believe. As Gandhi famously declared, “I will not allow other people to walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” It is also your duty to society to share only what is true.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "How To Spot Fake News"

Posted by:

07 Dec 2017

The first class I attended as a college freshman, the professor was discussing this matter way back when. I can still remember his words about the reporting of the "news": Just ask yourself:

1. Who wrote it
2. Why did he/she write it

It has stuck with me all these years.

Snopes has come under fire recently so, as Bob suggests, I would try some others to find out what's what. And to me, the truth lies somewhere on the Internet. You just have to duly search for it.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2017

Well, Bob, you pass. Ran the Gandhi Quote through a Google Search- and there seems to be PLENTY out there to prove it's not a 'Fake' Meme (though SO many ARE -- and perhaps ALL are since they often take a single quote out of context.


SharonH -- Since so many colleges and U's now have specific formats - obscure ones, not just the MLA or APA Style (but based upon them) -- some Colleges have their own. When an unnamed U English Department ran short of money (funding), they wrote their OWN Style book - and it was REQUIRED for any paper written in freshling English. (They then moved to MLA for all other classes) "_The College Campus Handbook of Style_" cost $25 back in the Mid 1980's, a LOT of money for a photocopied 25 pages stapled together 'Book' with those HUGE staples). (See? unnamed primary source but I want to keep the U anonymous). A sister U created one which was Called the '_Name of campus Style Book_'. They raised enough to not cut three English positions AND were able to budget new furniture THE FIRST YEAR IT WAS REQUIRED. That's a cruel 'out-side-the-box' punishment for starving Freshlings. But it worked well for the Department.

So in general, I always told my kids: start closest and move farther away, start concrete then move abstract in a cite. Thus the physical book comes first then the author (OR Author then book -- either WILL show up in a simple Google Search) moving out and away from the book (w/edition if needed), ---> page, publisher, place, year and you will generally be in compliance with APA or the MLA (Which kinda sucks overall -- esp with regard to web content).

It's been such a long time, I forget the nuances between MLA and APA - I'm an APA all the way - so if a book A quotes book B, cite them both -- and APA allows you to foot-end note easily "According to Smith (2015)the constructs of Jones (2005) are no longer valid." -- then you just look for 'Jones' with the right date -- AND you have said in more words what could have been said in less -- the #3 rule of being a student: "Never say in 10 words what you can say in 25." I handed out small printed and plastic sealed wide bookmarks with the APA general rules on them translated and 'published' in Student Language.

Following either the APA or MLA style, (or Chicago which is the third most common 'Style'), - SHOULD lead you on a very rapid way to run down good or bad sources for news. Took me all of 2 minutes or so to see that Bob's quote WAS from Gandhi beyond a shadow of a doubt, however, another 1 minute showed me it probably could not be sourced from the original publication or speech. 2 minutes gave me probably 50 VERY credible sources, FAR more than I'd need to tell me it was a real quote, and 30 seconds into the source showed me I'd not likely find it.

So what Bob is saying is: spend that extra ONE minute on Google searching a phrase of text, and you can pretty much source it. I just tried several three word phrases from various poems, got the correct hit each time. Ran 4-5-6 word phrases from 'classic' books in specific areas - that is, a book would ONLY likely be used by Geology or Geographic students (upper Division or Grad level), or by Ed, Psych, or Ed-Psych students, ditto Bio or Range Management -- and hit every one of them spot on. Just 3-5-6 words and I pin pointed the author AND the book in one entry. LESS than a minute to see if something was really out there.

And, I'm with Bob - PLEASE USE YOUR BRAIN -- IF YOU COULD UNDERSTAND FRESHLING ENGLISH, YOU ARE BRIGHT ENOUGH TO FIND TRUTH-FROM-FICTION. (That number is, amazingly around 85%+ of a population. You need not have taken Freshling English, but 85%+ COULD take it and pass. I'm not saying it is ALWAYS as easy the searches I did today, it might take you TWO WHOLE MINUTES to stop - or call out - what is basically a Bold Faced Lie. And we don't want to raise a generation that can't tell the difference between a Lie and the Truth (I mean, other than the Government). We no longer need people to think for us since we have a tool SO powerful, I can do in 10 seconds what would often take HOURS in the stacks of a U.

And - as a final reminded to all, my BEST English Prof had us write two papers about things we felt passionately about. First week was for our passion. Second week was against our passion. Only the second paper would be graded, - "If you can't argue something from both sides with equal passion, you don't know what you are talking about." -- I fear many -- perhaps most - people don't know what they are talking about.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2017

Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized all fact-checking projects by news organizations, including PolitiFact, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, writing that they "aren’t about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation".[29]

Posted by:

08 Dec 2017

A wise young man told me fifty years ago "believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see". I've lived by this maxim ever since and have not yet been duped by fake news. The definition of "fake news"? Anything Donald Trump doesn't want to hear.

EDITOR'S NOTE: So, are you saying we should not believe anything you write, or only half of it?

Posted by:

Jack Rekshas1
08 Dec 2017

More of this is what's needed. Maybe we should engage in national contests where anyone can read 3 differing headlines and have to search to find which one is fake news. The best experts would work to hide the fakery of the one in order to make it a real challenge. Meanwhile, providing boilerplate guidance for researching current articles. Thereby teaching those of us who try it, techniques for rooting out the fake assertions in everyday headlines and memes. I'm just sayin'... make it a game with winners and losers and "they will come."

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