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5 Ways to Spot Fake News – How to Tell Fact from Fiction

Wrong info is cluttering our newsfeeds like never before. We show you 5 ways to spot fake news online and in social media.

5 Ways to Spot Fake News
Photo: Tidio

Social media and its dominance has made spotting fake news items harder than getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. But while there is no one tried and true method for catching some solid zzz’s, there are sure fire ways to spot fake news.

As wonderful as a good night’s sleep sounds, this next thought is likely to give you nightmares. Of those polled, 88% said that they get their news primarily from social media. It’s shocking to think that a medium with no way to verify or investigate claims is responsible for informing that many people.

To put that in context, actual news sites (who do have ways to verify) are the primary source of information for 68% of those polled. Television accounts for 30% and the local newspapers are in last place with 27% of people getting info/news there.

Those numbers, at a time when the world is experiencing unprecedented events like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis, make facts all the more important. With  newsworthy items hitting our feed multiple times per hour, truth matters.

Here are some more shocking facts about disinformation run amok:

5 Ways to Spot Fake News
Photo: Tidio

We acknowledge that sometimes facts can be boring and complicated. But the truth about fake news and disinformation campaigns is that they tend to prey on our emotions. Perhaps that’s why fake news spreads six times faster than real stories and is 70% more likely to be retweeted. That’s also why having ways to spot fake news is crucial. While we agree that fiction is fantastic, there is no place for it when it comes to sharing important, fact based information.

Our friends over at Tidio agree that this topic is crucial for our society to be informed and stay well versed on current events. As a result, they took to researching the scale of misinformation, and how people react to fake information in today’s social media landscape.

Photo: Tidio

5 Ways to Spot Fake News

1. Analyze the wording and look for red flags.

In your efforts to spot fake news, read the post or comment carefully and look for some common patterns. Does it use typical phrases that are meant to boost the strength of the message and increase its credibility?

Here are some red flags and typical phrases:

It happened to my husband/work colleague/brother-in-law’s cousin/friend…
They don’t want you to know the truth…
Please, share it before they try to delete it/shut it down…
It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but I’m sharing it just in case (it turns out to be true)…
I know it sounds too good to be true but…
The government and the media are trying to cover it up…

Credibility is usually built by referring to a specific situation that happened to someone close or to an “insider.” Then, disinformation bots try to convince you that this is exclusive information. Probably the government/media/”they” don’t want you to know about it and are “hiding the truth.” The rest of the message is usually supposed to encourage you to share the news quickly before it disappears.

Step 2: Cross-reference the info with trustworthy sources

These days, information circulates much faster than before. If something happens to be true and newsworthy, then the chances are that established media outlets have reported it already. Try to check Google News before sharing a post or retweeting something. Or, cross check it with reputable news outlets.

5 Ways to spot fake news

It is also a good practice to see what position expert organizations are taking on a matter in question. For example, if we suspect that something related to public health and medicine is false, we should check what is the official WHO’s position.

Step 3: Visit the profile of the person who shares the information

The credibility of a post or comment can often be evaluated by visiting the user’s profile. A lot of times, spammers, trolls, or people with fake profiles will not have much information on their profile, or they may share very little content unrelated to the agenda they are pushing.

Some things you should pay attention to are:

  • Many posts that are persistently trying to push a very particular theory or opinion
  • Posting from different countries and in different languages
  • No credible information about education or employment
  • Profile pictures that don’t show their face (or profile photos that use AI filters)
  • Lots of pictures with children and animals (a common technique used to make profiles look more real)
  • A name that looks made up, doesn’t really match typical names for a given region or is abbreviated to initials, etc.
  • A low number of followers or followers who also look like fake accounts

Keep in mind that it’s easy to generate deep fakes and images that look like real people. There are programs that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as creating fake social media profiles or making believable hoaxes.

4. Use additional verification tools

There are many online fact-checking tools such as the Fake News Detector developed by MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Many of them use AI and machine learning, but are still in an early phase of development. Right now it is better to focus on verifying information through fact-checking websites.

Some websites for fact-checking, nonprofit companies, and news organizations include:

  • Washington Post Fact Checker
  • PolitiFact
  • Snopes
5 ways to spot fake news
Photo: Tidio

Also on the list of ways to spot fake news is analyzing specific elements.You can also use apps such as Google Lens. Very often, fake news is illustrated with old photos from uncredited sources. You can use reverse image search technology to find if a photo had been published before. The original context frequently turns out to be completely different.

Step 5: Report posts or profiles using the appropriate policy

If you are still having trouble identifying whether you are dealing with disinformation, it is very likely that you are. It’s a good idea to signal your concern and report a post, comment, or profile that you think is suspicious.

5 ways to spot fake news
Photo: Tidio

Facebook and other social media can use the information you provide to help track down the creators of fake bogus accounts. Sometimes this also means bringing them to justice. Troll rings are eliminated and closed down all the time. So, if you see something that looks suspicious or fake, be sure to report it!

Wrong info is cluttering our newsfeeds like never before. We show you 5 ways to spot fake news online and in social media.