How to spot fake news?

Fake news is breeding in massive proportions since 2017 as social media makes it so easy to share it online. Most of the websites carrying fake news look like trusted websites and readers are easily misinformed and led into these hoaxes. The technological ease of sharing these stories exposes it to more people who may be outraged by it and then also share it without question. Hence they easily proliferate and this vicious cycle of sharing continues till a considerable number of people believe this fake story to be the truth. This has escalated tensions in the social and political scenario of nations while demanding government intervention in the regulation of social media

Different kind of fake news are:

  1. Clickbait: Online publishers use clickbait to profit their business as more and more people click on their links. Their websites carry sensationalized headlines to grab attention and increase website traffic. This maximizes visitors on the websites and thereby increases advertising revenue through clicks.
  2. Propaganda: These stories are created to promote a political agenda, influence political views, sow division and swing opinions.
  3. Satire or parody: Many websites publish satirical news item for the purpose of parody. Readers recognize them as being false and intended for humour. But sometimes they contain fake news in the guise of legitimate news and the blurring line between satire and deliberate misinformation make their narrative sound too real.
  4. Sloppy Journalism: These stories are usually inaccurate, carry unreliable information and lack verification. It adheres to unethical journalistic practices that do not check facts and mislead audiences by sensationalising stories for good business. They lack depth while covering sensitive issues in a biased and restricted manner.  As an example, the retail corporation, Urban Outfitters published an Election Day Guide during US Elections informing voters that they needed a ‘voter registration card’ for voting which was completely untrue.
  5. Sensationalist Headlines: These stories bait you in a manner where you simply saw the headline and small snippet of the article in your newsfeed and shared it on your network. You most probably commented on the headline and moved on without reading the entire story. These stories might not be completely inaccurate but can mislead people with their distorted versions and quickly spread on social media sites.
  6. Highly-partisan news sites: These stories are written using language that is deliberately inflammatory, presents one viewpoint and people are drawn to these stories that confirm their own biases. Fake news exploits these biases that customize the audience newsfeed to display news and articles that are based on their personalized searches.

So how do we spot fake news? If the website looks unfamiliar and you are unsure then take a closer look at the URL or the domain name. Many fake websites mimic the authentic ones by making changes to the URL such as “”. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources. Then you can check their “About” section to learn more about the authors especially their expertise, professional profiles on sites like LinkedIn, what kind of research databases they have used or if they were a witness to the event. If there is a trend to the kind of authors publishing this story that the next thing you must do is check varied experts with different perspectives to the issue.

Look at other credible news sites with verifiable sources to check if they are reporting the same event. If not, then it could well indicate that it is a false story. There are times when articles cite official or official-sounding sources which when cross-checked don’t back up the claim. So make it a point to verify this. Fake news sources carry a lot of misspellings, grammar errors, dramatic punctuation such as excessive exclamation points, profanity or inflammatory language while well-reputed news sites have high proofreading and grammatical standards.

Some fake stories aren’t completely false, but maybe simply recycled as a current one. Fake news writers sometimes take a legitimate news story from the past, distort it with outrageous headlines and make it sound like a current event. Hence you must verify if the timelines make any real sense.


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