How to spot fake news in seconds

You don’t have to be an expert or dig deep into the truth to find out. Fake news is fairly easy to detect. Here is how.

Kostas Farmakis
Aug 15, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Filip Mishevski on Unsplash

Fake news are false stories that someone wants you to believe in order to obtain political or monetary gains, internet traffic, more clicks etc. Sometimes, fake news are used to spread misinformation so the reader will look away from the real news, the real problems and the really important stuff.

Criticism is not fake news. Unfavorable articles, opinion pieces and investigative journalism can be good or bad, you can agree with them or not, but they seldom are fake news.

Fake news stories spread much faster on Twitter than real news, as a study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found. Who spreads them? People like you and me.

We shop around online for hours in order to buy a pair of shoes, but we accept without much doubt almost everything we read as “news” in our social media feed. Treat your news consumption the same way you treat your food. Our body is shaped by what we eat and our mind is shaped by what we read.

Photo by Taras Shypka on Unsplash

So, you stumble upon a headline which can be anything between “Senator Secretly Endorses Terror Group” to “Pizza is Good for your Health” and “An Asteroid is Coming to Get You.”

If something seems off to you, it’s because it probably is.

Before you click “Share,” do the following:

  • Consider the source
    Is the article published in a well-known and respectable media outlet? Does it have a byline (signature of the writer)? Is the publication known about the accuracy of its reporting? Do you feel informed by reading it?
  • Consider the info
    Does the article cite any sources? Who told the journalist that pizza is good for your health because it contains fresh tomato? Is the “astronomer” who talks about the asteroid named? And if the endorsement was secret, how did the reporter find out?
  • Consider the grammar and punctuation
    Titles in capital letters, double exclamation marks, typos, poor grammar, all these show that this is not only fake news, but also a very bad one. Click delete.
  • Reverse search the images
    Many fake news consist of an image that was taken in the past and in another place, but is shown today as “proof” that something happened here. Right click on the image, select “Search Google for this image” and you will see every webpage that had this image, along with its context. No one will ever fool you again.
  • If it’s only on social media, it’s probably fake
    Someone shares a picture, a video, or a news story so outrageous and, at the same time, so believable, that you want to share it immediately. Hold on. Is there an original news story to begin with? As with chain-mail, the mere fact that someone says something, does not make it true.
  • Nobody is talking about…
    Ignore any news that begin with this line. We live in an information overload, anyone can say anything anytime. People will just won’t stop talking. So, if nobody is talking about something, it’s because there is nothing to talk about in the first place.

If you want to go deeper and spot fake news like a pro, The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published a summary in diagram form to assist people in recognizing fake news.

Armed with that knowledge, you can spot false stories that someone wants you to believe. Be the gatekeeper of your mind. And eat that pizza from time to time. A pizza is perfectly OK to share.

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Kostas Farmakis

Written by

I write for the living for the past 30 years. Expert in digital life, tech and traveling. Currently learning code and stand-up comedy. Don’t know my endgame.

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