10 Steps to Spot Fake News
Updated: May 28
We all need to play a part to help stop the spread of misinformation. The spread of COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation and it’s up to all of us to play our part. For that reason, I am starting a media literacy series of blog posts to help inform the public and provide everyone with the tools to figure out what is real and what is fake in the news. Check out my step-by-step guide to spotting any fake news source.
STEP 1: STOP and READ further before you share.
STEP 2: Consider the Source
Is it a news site you have heard of before? If not, read their “About Us” section
Does it have a website? Or is just a photo or video on its own? If it doesn’t have a website, assume it is not reliable.
What is the name of the source? Is it an excessive sounding name that uses words like the the “real news” or “info wars?” These inflammatory sounding names are a sign that it’s not reliable.
Look at the website’s URL. What is the domain name? If it ends in “.com.co” or if it says something like “abcnews.com.co” “or bbc.com-latest-news.xyz” consider it not credible. News sites should only end with .com.
STEP 3: Look at the Headline
Does the headline sound dramatic? Does it have a lot of capital letters? If they use language such as “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!!!!!!!!!”or “The Secret They Don’t Want You to Know!” you can assume it’s not credible.
STEP 4: Pay Attention to the Source's Layout and Formatting
Do you notice spelling mistakes, capital letters and lots of exclamation marks? Reputable sources tend to have high proofreading and grammatical standards, otherwise it’s safe to assume it's not a credible source.
How is the web design and layout? Bad design and outdated or cheap-looking formats are usually a bad sign.
STEP 5: Look Into the Author
Do a quick search on them on the publisher’s site and on Google.
Have they published anything else?
What is their professional background? Is it relevant to the topic? For example, if they are discussing medical advice around COVID19, but aren’t a medical doctor and also don’t cite or quote a medical doctor, assume the source is not reliable.
Check the byline at the bottom of the article. Be suspicious if the author’s contact information is a gmail address and not one connected to the respective news site.
STEP 6: Look at the Date and Time of Publication
Is the story current or recycled? Make sure an older story isn’t taken out of context.
If it has no date then assume it is not credible, reliable media outlets always date stamp their articles.
STEP 7: Check The Sources and Citations
How did you find the article? If the content showed up in your social media feed or was promoted on a website known for clickbait, proceed with caution.
Who is (or is not) quoted and what do they say? If you notice a lack of quotes and contributing sources, then assume this is not a credible article.
Can you perform a reverse search for sources and images? Does the image show up in previous articles that were published months or years ago? Google images allows you to do a “reverse search” with a selected image. This way you can confirm that the information was accurately applied and not altered to meet the author’s point of view. To do a reverse image search follow these steps.
STEP 8: Do a Quick Search to See Who Else is Reporting on the Story (If They Are)
Do a Google search about this piece of news. Is the article you’re reading the only one to report something extreme?
Who else is reporting on it if they are? Are other legitimate outlets reporting on it or are they websites you never heard of?
If it is being shared, are they all re-sharing the same original article? It may be because that outlet made it up.
STEP 9: Ask the Experts
There are plenty of fact-checking websites that verify articles that have been deemed “fake news.” There are many good ones, like FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), PolitiFact.com, or Snopes.com
STEP 10: Consider if This is Some Sort of Joke
Remember, there is such a thing as satire. Normally, it’s clearly labeled as such. Think of satire websites such as The Onion.
If after all these steps you are still unable to figure out if this information is reliable or not, then stay on the safe side, and DON’T SHARE. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Next week, we’ll talk about the difference between bias and fake news!