how to spot fake news

“Fake news” has been a hot topic lately. But in truth, it’s nothing new.

Since 1952, the National Inquirer has based their publication on salacious news, paving the way for the sensationalist tabloids you see today in supermarket checkouts. Now that the digital age is in full swing, this type of “click bait” news has found its way online, in your phone news feed, on social media – it’s everywhere.

And social media provides the perfect vehicle for these bogus, yet sophisticated looking “news sites” with exaggerated headlines to fabricate stories and pass them off as the truth.

Now that Facebook and Google have announced they’ll be cracking down on fake news sites, more and more people are interested in learning how to tell fact from fabrication. If you want to do the same, here are some things to watch out for:

Does the Website URL Look Legitimate?

cloud computingAt first glance, many fake news websites look similar to well-known news organizations – and you better believe they do this intentionally to trick their viewers.

For example, is not a spin-off of the legitimate ABC News website.

(Notice the similar color scheme?)

This particular website refers to itself as a “fantasy news website” and one way you can distinguish it from the official website property is the .co at the end of the domain. If a website ends in, be sure to give it a second look.

In fact, do a Google search for this particular fake news site, you’ll see that…well…the jig is up.

Other publications are onto them and it’s only a matter of time until this site is blacklisted from popular social media sites – or even Google. But until these fake news sites are exposed for what they truly are, a quick search in Google can often reveal a great deal of information.

Why Publish Fake News?

You might be wondering, what’s in it for them? Why go through all this trouble just to fabricate a bunch of stories online?

Of course, it’s all about the money. Get inside the head of Jestin Coler, the “Godfather” of fake news, and see why he does it.

Clicks translate into website traffic and traffic translates into views or ad clicks which, for some has produced up to $40,000/month simply by running advertisements addressing issues like “cracked feet” and “deep fat.”

SECURITY TIP: By the way, these types “click bait” ads have been known to be exploited with malware, so before you click that tempting ad headline, be sure your browser, firewall and antivirus program is up to date.

Fact Check Quotes

Most legitimate news publications reference multiple sources in each of their stories to offer their professional expertise and add another dimension to the story. In fact, our own Jared Olson appeared on Fox 6 News last November to lend his professional perspective on cyber crime.

Serious or controversial issues typically reference multiple quotes from professors or academics to offer their perspective based on research they’ve done. If a study has been referenced, there’s a good chance you can find it published online elsewhere.

  • Look up not only the study, but also the sources quoted in the news story.
  • Are they credible?
  • Does that individual even exist?

If you can’t find anything by searching the source’s name, try typing their name in quotes like this – “Susan Smith”.

What this does, is tell Google to show search results with the name Susan smith, in that order. Here are some other helpful Google tricks that will help you quickly find information.

Read the Comments

Let’s face it, we’re all busy. As tempting as it is to see a great headline and share it with your friends on Facebook (without actually reading the entire story), take a few minutes to evaluate its authenticity.

Sometimes this can be as simple as reading the comments to gain additional insight on the story. While some comments fall into the “internet troll” category and just aren’t helpful, a quick skim through the comments might reveal a few folks calling out the article for being fake or misleading. That’s usually a good sign that the story is completely fabricated or misleading in some way.

Verify Authenticity through Other Websites

Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College created a helpful checklist on how to spot fake news in response to her students referencing questionable sources. Some fake news sites like The Onion are designed to be satirical, rather than trying to pass themselves off as a genuine new site. Zimdars’ list classifies a wide range of sites as misleading, satirical or fake.

Wikipedia also has a list of fake news sites you can cross reference here. Other sites like, Snopes, and are among the (most trusted) fact checking websites.

Finally, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created the infographic below with some additional steps to help you spot fake news.

As Business Insider recently stated, “As Google and Facebook become the primary sources of news and information online for many, the companies are realizing they have a responsibility to make sure users are seeing facts, not hoaxes.

Just as editors at traditional media outlets have to curate content and separate fact from fiction, Google has to do the same on a massive scale for all the stuff published to the web.”

And now it’s your turn. Follow these tips to do your part and together, let’s put an end to fake news.

tips to spot fake news

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