It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of Americans no longer get their news from their local paper or the 6:00pm network TV news. Whatever shows up in one’s Facebook feed effectively serves that function. Unfortunately, most social media consumers don’t understand the power of the platform’s algorithms and how it automatically channels content that aligns with a person’s beliefs, reinforcing ever-narrowing ideological views over time. Further, intentionally false content on Facebook tries to be confused with legitimate news. Since the 2016 presidential election, social media companies have been under tremendous pressure to do something about misinformation. They have responded by applying anti-fake-news strategies to demonstrate that they are willing to take action.
A couple of years ago, Facebook put together a top 10 list called “Together We Can Fight False News.” As we head into the 2020 presidential election, these tips are still valuable to help spot fake news:
1. Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
2. Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site and compare the URL to established sources.
3. Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check its “About” section to learn more.
4. Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
5. Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
6. Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense or event dates that have been altered.
7. Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
8. Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
9. Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it maybe just for fun.
10. Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
Misinformation and disinformation is not a new phenomenon. But if we want to live in a functioning democracy that shares common truths, all of us have a responsibility to do our part in addressing fake news. A good place to start is to subscribe—and pay—for responsible journalism.
President / Creative Director