Fake news is seemingly everywhere. While there are legitimate satirical sites out there with often funny takes on current events, not all efforts to mislead with stories is as wholesome. Some unscrupulous operators attempt to trick people and get them to take action or otherwise influence their decisions. Anything that isn’t clearly marked as satire, or comes from a known source such as The Onion, should be taken with a grain of salt before it has the chance to have any severe effect.
As with anything, the more you know, and the better you’re willing to research, the more likely you are to avoid any adverse effects. Try these 10 tips to stay on top of the news and what’s truly important.
1. Carry Out a Sense Check on Everything You Read
The first question you should always attempt to ask yourself when trying to determine whether something is fake news is whether or not it makes sense. If you read the news, you probably have a general understanding of what’s going on out there and what passes the sense test. If you’ve learned something about an individual saying something out of character, or something simply sounds too ridiculous to be accurate, get a second opinion.
2. Always Assess the Source
We’ve already mentioned the Onion as a source of satire, but it’s not the only such online destination. Some news sources are more reputable than others. Then we have the Facebook links, where anything can be widely shared, regardless of where the information comes from. Check the web address and if it differs from the branding or otherwise feels fake, take the opportunity not to trust it.
3. Check for Typos in Domain Names
Typos can be hard to spot unless you’re a professional editor that spends each day doing so and makes a point of looking out for them. If you have doubts about a particular story, check the domain name carefully. See if it has switched a letter or added one to the beginning or end. If you have time, have a look around the rest of the site. Most news sites publish dozens of articles each day, so a website with just a handful of posts probably isn’t as reputable as you might think.
4. Spot the Difference between Headlines and Stories
It’s no secret that some otherwise reputable websites have resorted to clickbait in the titles. They need the traffic to get people to see their ads, and they’ll bend the rules of fair play to get them onto the site. This doesn’t apply everywhere but decide for yourself whether there are any significant discrepancies between what the headline says and what the story tells you. If there are differences, it may feel like someone has taken it upon themselves to make something up.
5. Look at When the Story was Published
Always check the year and date. We have to return to social media for this one. We remember an instance of people being sad that a celebrity had passed away, and it did the rounds with thousands of likes and shares. However, that celebrity had already been dead for several years, and the shared article was an old one. Recency means relevance, and you shouldn’t fall for anything that has gone before.
6. Consider Whether the Writing Quality Matches the Brand
While much news consumption has moved online, the reputable names in the industry still use real writers and proper journalists – people with a certain level of skill with words and with a decent knowledge of style guides. Just as you wouldn’t trust a phishing email with typos, you shouldn’t trust news stories where it feels like an amateur wrote the story.
7. Learn to Spot False Emotions
If the story in question has the aim of causing someone to feel a certain way, it will use words to try to elicit an emotional response. If the story attempts to swing a vote in an election, it may try to make people irrationally angry about one candidate. The best news reporting is neutral and factual, so look out for warning signs about anything that seemingly wants you to think a certain way.
8. Double-Check Celebrity Endorsement
News stories, especially those that seek to go viral on social media, often use celebrity endorsement. The people with the right morals to create fake news have no qualms about setting up false endorsements. The vast sums paid to athletes to wear certain clothes or Instagram influencers for sponsored posts indicate this works – but make sure that the approval is legitimate.
9. Reverse Image Search Pictures in the Article
You can reverse image search pictures through Google and other specialist websites. If you’re unsure of a story, see where an image has been used previously. Without the accompanying story, most pictures can be taken out of context, so it’s important to know that what you’re looking at is the real deal.
10. Seek Out Other Sources on the Same Story
When something makes the news, it’s rarely only covered in one place. Even websites that are famous for breaking news, such as TMZ, often serve as the source for other reputable publications. In short, if you’ve read a story and are unsure whether it makes as much sense as it should, hit the search engines for verification. If nowhere else has published the account in question, or other sources refer back to the questionable one as their only provider of information, it may not be as accurate as it could be.