Fake news has become one of the hottest topics of discussion in the wake of the 2016 election. While it’s unlikely the result of the election was swayed by the made up stories that populated Facebook feeds, it still does plenty of damage to discourse.
Many news stories on Facebook look the same whether they’re from a legitimate news outlet or a website registered by some teenagers in Macedonia. And it’s not just a problem for your older uncle who will believe anything; kids are falling for the fakes, too.
According to a Stanford study, four in 10 high school students believed a story that suggested Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was toxic after being shown a headline about the plant paired with an unsourced photo of deformed flowers. Meanwhile, 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t discern between a real story and a piece of sponsored content.
The problem of fake news is real, and one that requires fixing before it drives a divide and makes it all the more challenging to communicate with one another. Until Facebook decides to actively address the problem instead of contributing to it, here are some ways you can verify what you read online.
Don’t just read the headline
According to a study from Columbia University and the French National Institute, nearly 60 percent of all links shared online have never been clicked. People read the headline and share or see an excerpt and retweet without ever looking at the full text.
Fake news can easily exploit this habit with attention-grabbing headlines that play into people’s preconceived notions. Read the full article and it may quickly reveal itself to be fake.
Search for citations
Most news sites cite their sources when reporting on stories. If there’s no link to a familiar source or a link to another shady looking site, and no suggestion that the original story is based off a trusted publication, then feel free to close the tab and go about your business.
Make sure you’re reading a legitimate news site
Fakers who fully intend on making you think their site is legitimate have managed to grab domains that are close to but not quite real. The real ABC news site is abcnews.com, while the fake one that will often crop up is abcnews.com.co. Likewise, the most popular fake news story of the 2016 election cycle came from the Denver Guardian. That sounds like a real publication, but it isn’t.
Check around the site a bit, go to the contact or “about us” page, and see if there is a masthead. Not a lot of attention to detail goes into fakes since most assume you’ll just look at the one story and share. The facade can quickly fall with a little clicking around.
Look for the story on trusted sites
If you’re not sure if the story you’re reading is real, check trusted news sites for a similar story. Google the headline and see where else it appears. If it’s not showing up anywhere else, odds are you found a fake.
Use the wealth of fact checking resources online
If a story is getting traction, odds are there are fact checkers looking into it. Snopes pretty quickly snuffs out specific fakes as they start gaining shares. FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker often offer debunks on bad information when spread by prominent figures. Cross reference the site you’re viewing with a list of fake outlets compiled by Melissa Zimdars, a communication and media professor from Merrimack College in Massachusetts.