In a Time of Internet Sensationalism, How Do You Spot Fake News?

magnifying glass on computer keyboard

Step right up! Step right up! We’ve got the most amazing, fantastic, fool-proof, cure-all-of-your-woes blog post you’ll read this year! We’ve got the top 100 reasons to keep reading and #57 will leave you in tears!

We all love amazing and interesting information. We love reading it, sharing it, and talking about it. Sometimes though, when that information sounds too good to be true, it might be time to take a step back and ask ourselves “Wait a second … is this real?” That’s right, folks: Today we’re talking about fake news.

Fake news has been around since the dawn of time. We humans are amazing at lying to each other, spreading delicious rumors and fabricating stories. But as long as there have been liars, there have been even better liars, and in this day and age, it seems as if it’s harder than ever to tell all of those better liars apart.

Over the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of click-bait titles, fake information and unfounded claims on the internet, and a lot of people are having more and more trouble weeding out the bona fide from the bogus. So what can you do to stay above the curve and not fall into those deceitful info makers’ traps?  Here are a few tips:

Are the Headlines Sensational?

We’ve all seen those sensationalized headlines, things like: “Top 10 Reasons Why Doctors Hate Us and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!” If the headline looks like it’s meant to catch your attention, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the article itself, not only could this just be click-bait, but it might also just mean that the article itself doesn’t have useful information either. So if a headline seems to be using all the right words to get you to click, be extra careful and skeptical as you read.

How Ridiculous Is the Article?

There are some “news” sites out there that deliberately create fake information for the sole purpose of generating clicks and traffic. So if an article seems more laughable than believable, check the site’s About Us page, do some quick searching, find out more about the company itself. They might even admit to being satirical or for pure entertainment like The Onion or Clickhole. (Birmingham even has its own fake news source, The Birmingham Pre-Herald.) Everyone loves a good laugh, but sharing blatantly false information and attempting to pass it off as truth is never good for anyone involved.

Are They Using Fishy URLs?

If you click on an article and notice that the URL in the address bar doesn’t look quite right, then you might have either just fallen into a phishing scam or maybe the article you just clicked on is trying to look like it came from somewhere it actually didn’t. Always be mindful of your sources, and be sure your news is coming from a website you actually trust.

Did They Use Photoshop or Not?

A lot of fake news articles will use outlandish pictures or clearly altered photos to make their claims seem either even more believable or outrageous. So, if you’re reading an article and you notice that the images look like they belong more in a cartoon than on a reputable news site, you might want to see if you can corroborate the same information elsewhere.

Does the Article Use Bad Grammar and Bad Spelling?

Fake articles don’t always have the same love and attention given to copyediting that a well thought-out, well-written and legitimate article might have. So if you see a lot of misspellings or grammatical errors, or the information overall doesn’t read very well, then the misspelled words might not be the only thing on the page that is wrong.

Have You Checked the Date?

We’ve all seen this: Someone is passing around an article from five years ago warning about bad weather, a local accident or an equally foreboding incident, and even though that information was perfectly valid half a decade ago, now it’s just misleading. So check the dates on articles and make sure that not only the information is still relevant, but it’s not out-dated in general.

Have You Scoped Out Other News Sites?

If all else fails and the article still seems too good to be true, Google it. Find other news outlets that cover the same information and see if everything matches up. Sometimes reporters and journalists can make honest mistakes in the simple (or even complex) details, and even though they didn’t mean it, it can still turn out to be fake news. So compare, contrast, and make an informed decision.

 

a smiling man in a plaid shirt

Jonathan started his career in print design, but he quickly saw the potential of website design. Always looking for a new challenge, Jonathan taught himself development so he could bring his own designs to life; now he’s one of our most talented programmers. He loves board games, card games, and pranking coworkers (not necessarily in that order). Voted Infomedian Most Likely to Write Fantasy Novels, he’s serious about storytelling and is always eager to discuss the plot holes in about whatever popular book/movie/TV show everyone’s talking about. When not at work, Jonathan’s usually hanging out with his wife, Chandra, and their son.


See more articles from Jonathan Walls

You Might Also Like To Read More About...

Tip of the Week