Fake news is everywhere. And it’s not just your new-to-the-internet tita who’s vulnerable fake news. No matter how media-savvy you may think you are, chances are you’ve probably unknowingly shared fake news and misinformation yourself.
We may never understand the motivations behind these peddlers of fake news (if you’re one of these people and you’re reading this, DO BETTER). Sadly, social media platforms just aren’t doing enough to protect us from disinformation. Sure, we can report something as fake news and hope that it goes away, but it’s like fighting Hydra — chop one head off and two more grow back in its place. These fake news accounts just keep coming back. (Some are even verified.)
It may seem like an impossible fight, but we can take action to protect ourselves from misinformation. Fact-checking takes some work, but in this day and age, we need to be more vigilant about the information we’re spreading on social media. Here are some helpful guidelines on how to falling for fake news.
1. Read the whole article (not just the headline)
Headlines don’t always tell the entire story. After all, there’s only so much information you can squeeze into a headline. The first step to figuring out if a story is real or not is actually reading it. That might seem obvious, but we all know that far too many people don’t bother reading beyond the headline before clicking the share button or reacting.
Online publishing sites — even legitimate news sites — use eye-catching headlines to draw in clicks, and what seems like an outrageous story might actually make sense once you read the entire thing. Or you could find out that the story is actually satire. You’ll never know for sure unless you read the thing.
2. Check if the publisher is legit
Some online publishers are more concerned about clicks and profit rather than accuracy. These publishers exploit social media by intentionally spreading fake news.
Check their company information. Where is the company located? Who’s on staff? What is the company’s mission? These are typical pieces of info that you’d typically find on a legitimate news source. If this is all missing, that’s a red flag. (This is also the best way to spot a satirical news site.)
Is it posing as another company? Many of these look like legitimate sites, or are intentionally copying credible news sources to pass their content off as legitimate. Double-check the URL to see any discrepancies. For example:
- www.gmanetwork.com is the REAL url of GMA-7
- www.gma-tv.com is NOT*
*(gma-tv.com is currently down, but intentionally imitated GMA-7 to mislead readers)
3. Check if the author is a real person
Check the byline. If an online publisher doesn’t use bylines at all, you have no way of verifying the author’s credibility. That’s a bad sign.
Is the person writing the article qualified to write about it? Is he/she even real?
Some sites have a space for a bio, where some authors list their credentials and link to their social media accounts. Most fake news writers hide behind a made-up name and stock photo. These fake identities may be harder to spot, but you could also do a quick Google search to find out if he or she has published anything else.
4. Check the article date
Some fake news stories aren’t completely made-up, but distort real events by implying that they took place in a different time. For example, they could claim that something that happened years ago is related to current events.
Checking the publishing date is the first step to verifying a news report’s relevance. Sometimes, old news stories get recirculated on social media without anyone bothering to check if it’s a recent report.
Then, check the linked sources’ dates. The article could have been published recently, but when you click on the links, they may reference outdated news reports.
5. Check your biases
Many — if not all — of us are prone to falling for fake news because of two kinds of biases: implicit bias and confirmation bias.
Implicit bias refers to how we tend to trust people inside our group, and distrust people outside. For example:
- Someone who is part of Group A would be more likely to believe in fake news from other people from Group A.
- And people from Group A will have an implicit bias against Group B.
All of us have implicit biases. This is why it’s important to have people in our social circles who are members of groups that we’re not part of, as they’re better at identifying our biases. And we can do the same for them.
Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to look for information that confirms our beliefs. We’re more likely to believe “facts” that are aligned with our beliefs, and ignore the actual facts that go against them.
When you’re confronted with a news story that goes against what you believe is true, don’t be too quick to write it off as fake news. Read the story, do your fact-checking (i.e. follow the steps in this list), and you’ll be less likely to fall into the confirmation bias trap.
6. Verify the links and sources
If something looks and sounds outrageous, verify it. What is the article based on? Are there actual quotes and sources? If these are missing, then something’s up.
Check the links to see if they actually support the article. Google the quotes to see if anything is being taken out of context to fit the author’s agenda.
You should also check if other credible publishers are reporting the news. If not, then that could mean that the information is still being verified by other journalists. Or it could be totally fake.
Also, be on the lookout for altered images, as well as photos that are taken out of context. You can check the source of a photo by doing a reverse image search on Google.
7. Ask yourself: Is this satire?
With the amount of ridiculous news we’re subjected to day in and day out, identifying satire is getting harder and harder to do. But you really don’t want to be that person who gets outraged over something that’s not supposed to be taken seriously. So it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume that a ridiculous story is a joke before reacting.
The best way to figure out if something is a joke or not is to simply check if the publisher is a satire site (e.g. The Onion). Or you could read the comments to figure out if there’s a punchline that you’re missing.
8. Ask the experts
If you’re still unsure, try verifying the news with a fact-checking website like FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), PolitiFact.com, or Snopes.com. For local news, you could check with VERA Files and Rappler, which has a section dedicated to debunking fake news.
Important reminder: until you’re sure if an outrageous news story is real or not, keep your cursor off the “share” button.
How do you protect yourself from fake news? Sound off in the comments below!