How to Spot Fake News in the Wild
Don’t be duped.
Published on December 12, 2016

Since the election, your social media feeds have likely been filled with fake news generated to cater to inflamed emotions on both sides of the aisle. You may have read that Russian acrobats infiltrated voting booths in Wisconsin or perhaps you heard that Obama is declaring himself emperor of the United States Caliphate and throwing out the election results so that he can reign for the rest of his life under Shariah Law.

You may have also found that the fake news is coming from inside your own house. Who amongst us hasn’t hit the RT button on a undercover parody account or perhaps shared a Facebook headline before our brain caught up to our outrage? It is a brave new world out there and it is vital that you are prepared. Here are some ways to spot fake news before you end up helping more lies go viral.


Double-Check the URL

First, look at the website. No matter your politics, we can agree that “WorldPsychicNewsOnline” is a less reputable source than the Washington Post. If only if were always that easy. Just like any pest, fake news has caught on and mutated over the years. Clever fakers like to buy domains that look reputable and add “.co” to the end of them. A visit to yields a website that looks real enough until you see headlines involving a planned national revote and a fireman arrested for praying at the scene of a crime by a nefarious athiest mayor.


What Else Is the Site Reporting?

If you aren’t familiar with the site that is posting the news item you’re about to share, go ahead and check out its home page. If the article you’re sharing is next to one about FEMA Death Camps and you think to yourself, “Hmm, I haven’t seen any FEMA Death Camps lately,” then the site may not be on the up and up.


Google That Shit

It is always worth checking to see who else is covering the story. Sometimes, an outlet totally scoops everyone else, and it takes the media as a whole days to catch up. For example, the Guardian had the Edward Snowden story first because it physically had Edward Snowden. This is the exception to the rule, the stuff Pulitzers are made of. If other outlets aren’t reporting on it, it is usually because it isn’t true.

It is also helpful to check the timestamp on any other articles on the same topic. Celebrity death hoaxes and other evergreen stories are often recycled by clickbait artists, especially if they’ve gone viral before. Google image searching any photographs in the article can also help you quickly debunk fake news. For example, after the election, “protest photos” were making the rounds that were actually years-old photos from South American demonstrations.


Is It “Satire”?

Some fake news sites have the decency (or maybe the fear of being sued) to add a satire disclaimer to portions of their website. Look for them before posting something that sounds too good to be true. Contrary to what the work of Andy Borowitz has left you believing, satire is supposed to be funny. That hasn’t stopped many fake news peddlers from hiding behind the word in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit for claiming that Chief Keef is the father of Condoleezza Rice’s love child.


Is the Headline a Question?

Various sage media commentators have noticed that if the headline is written as a question, the answer is often “no.” This is a trick that many more reputable sites engage in when they would like to report on something they know isn’t actually true. Thankfully there are Twitter accounts like @savedyouaclick and @filmclickbait out here doing God’s work, weeding through these annoying headlines, but you are likely better off ignoring them even if it is your favorite site plays these games.


Check in With the Fact Checkers

No individual fact-checking site is perfect, but they should be a tool in your arsenal. If you look at a story and feel like it’s too good to be true, why not take a second to check in with Snopes or Politifact before you pass it along to the entirety of your social media feed and look like one of those simpleton sheep? Of course, they may be inconclusive, and even fact checkers sometimes get it wrong, but these sites are a great starting point.


Diversify Your Media Diet

No, you don’t have to start checking in with Fox News to make sure that your media intake is fair and balanced. You should still make sure that in this age of partisanship that you aren’t putting blinders on. Fake news has a way of spreading along partisan lines. For example, accusations of Russian interference in the election have moved a bit too freely in center-left circles sympathetic to Hillary Clinton, and as a result some questionable news has slipped through.

When the Washington Post fell victim to some squishy sources, more left-leaning writers like Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone took it to task. Since those two were Sanders supporters, they were less susceptible to wishful thinking. Similarly, when the left-wing groupthink on a topic seems too good to be true, it doesn’t hurt to check in with conservative outlets with some integrity like the Wall Street Journal and the Economist for another point of view.


Stay Woke

The best thing you can do is remain skeptical. Your social media feed is a reflection of you, whether you like it or not. Weeding out fake news starts with you, and if you are diligent and discerning with your media, there will be one less person claiming that Donald Trump has declared himself dictator for life. That is, until he actually declares himself dictator for life.

Brenden Gallagher
Brenden Gallagher works in television and writing in Los Angeles. He worked on Revenge, Heartbeat, and Famous in Love. His writing has appeared at Complex, VH1, and MERRY JANE. Follow him on Twitter @muddycreekU
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