Not sure which sources to trust when you’re online? These browser plug-ins and online tools can help you detect fake-news sites.
You’re probably already aware of this, but fake news remains a pervasive problem online. You find a fascinating news story you want to share, but you don’t know whether you can trust it. Is it true? Accurate? Reliable? Not even your Facebook friends know how to tell the difference!
You may not be able to identify each individual story as true or false, but you can find out whether the news site it comes from is considered reliable and truthful, courtesy of the right browser plug-in.
Plug-ins such as NewsGuard, TrustedNews, and the Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon integrate into your browser and display grades, rankings, and reports to tell you more about each news site you visit. You can then better determine if the stories you read across the internet should be trusted.
NewsGuard relies on a team of journalists who analyze more than 2,000 news and information sites in the United States. Each site is evaluated and ranked on nine different criteria:
- Does the site repeatedly publish false content?
- Does it gather and present information responsibly?
- Does it regularly correct or clarify errors?
- Does it handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly?
- Does it avoid deceptive headlines?
- Does it disclose ownership and financing about itself?
- Does it clearly label advertising?
- Does it reveal who’s in charge, including possible conflicts of interest?
- Does it provide information about content creators?
Each criterion is given a certain weighting, or number of points, to determine the site’s overall rating. A site earns a green rating when it meets basic standards of accuracy and accountability. A site is dinged with a red rating when it fails to meet those minimum standards.
NewsGuard is available as a plug-in for Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and Apple’s Safari. On mobile, Microsoft Edge for iOS and Android has a built-in News rating setting in which you can enable NewsGuard.
After NewsGuard is activated, an icon for the plug-in appears on your browser’s toolbar. Surf to a website that NewsGuard’s team has analyzed, and the icon turns green or red, depending on the site’s ranking. Click on the icon to find out why the site earned its stripes.
From there, clicking on the link to view the full nutrition label serves up greater details that reveal the ownership, content, history, background, and credibility (or lack thereof) of the site. The label also lists the authors behind the report and the sources they used.
Run a Google or Bing search, and NewsGuard displays its familiar icon next to any news sites or stories that appear in the results. Hover over the icon to view NewsGuard’s analysis of the site.
Available just for Google Chrome, TrustedNews comes from Eyeo, the company behind the popular ad filtering plug-in AdBlock Plus. TrustedNews works differently than NewsGuard because it doesn’t recruit journalists to analyze news sites.
Instead, TrustedNews taps into MetaCert’s MetaCert Protocol, which uses independent sources to gauge the accuracy and truthfulness of news content. Eyeo touts MetaCert as reliable, asserting that its sources aren’t politically affiliated and are transparent in their fact checking.
Beyond MetaCert, TrustedNews relies on other sources to analyze news and information sites. One such source is Politifact, a fact-checking service run by The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists. Another source is Snopes, which tries to fight misinformation by employing writers, editors, and others to fact check rumors and gossip.
A third source is Melissa Zimdars, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media at Merrimack College, who is known for compiling a list of fake news sources. Initially intended just for a class that Zimdars taught, the list has since gone viral.
The sources use specific criteria to analyze each site and give it a certain rating or classification. Is the content based on facts and backed up by primary sources? If so, the site is considered Trustworthy. Does the site publish false or misleading information? If so, it’s rated Untrustworthy.
If the site contains politically biased content or unproven and skewed views, it’s rated as Biased. If it has misleading or false headlines designed to entice readers to visit the site, it’s rated as Clickbait. And if the content is discovered delivering threats to your computer or personal safety, it’s rated as Malicious.
To use TrustedNews in Chrome, download and install it from the Chrome Web Store. When you open a news site that TrustedNews has analyzed, its toolbar icon displays a small label indicating the site’s rating. Click the icon, and the resulting window displays and explains the rating.
Click on the link for “Learn how we reached this rating.” You’ll find links to pages that explain the MetaCert protocol, how the sources rate websites, and why TrustedNews believe you should trust it.
You can also click on a link to give feedback on the rating. From there, indicate whether you agree or disagree with the rating and share your reasons why.
Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon
The Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon, or MBFC, offers a different take than the other plug-ins. Instead of grading news sites on a variety of different criteria, MBFC focuses on one factor: political bias. But it also evaluates a site based on factual reporting, namely how accurate and reliable is the information and how proper are the sources for that information.
Available for Chrome and Firefox, this plug-in comes courtesy of developer Jeffrey Carl Faden, a software engineer at Lab Zero. The plug-in takes its name from — but is not affiliated with — a website called MBFC News, which has analyzed more than 2,600 news and media sites for political leanings and bias.
The Methodology section for the site explains the process MBFC employs to evaluate each news site, including the use of fact-checking principles developed by the Poynter Institute.
In a blog post from 2016, Faden revealed that he created the MBFC plug-in so he wouldn’t have to consult the MBFC News website each time he wanted to check a news site. Like the MBFC site, the plug-in assigns rankings to news sites based on an analysis of bias. A site can receive any of the following grades:
- L — Left Bias
- LC — Left-Center Bias
- C — Center (Least Biased)
- RC — Right-Center Bias
- R — Right Bias
- PS — Pro-Science
- CP — Conspiracy-Pseudoscience
- S — SatireQ — Questionable Sources
After you install the MBFC plug-in, an icon appears on the toolbar or toward the end of the address bar. Browse to a news or information site, and the icon changes its color and initial to indicate the bias ranking for that site.
Click on the icon, and a description pops up to explain the specific level of bias assigned to that site. The window also indicates the site’s level of factual reporting — Very High, High, Mixed, Low, or Very Low.
Click on the More info link for the news site and you’ll see a detailed report with examples that explain why the site was evaluated with a certain bias. The report also includes a history and background of the site.
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.