A guide to spotting fake news

In mid-October, Eric Trump tweeted an article about a man who claimed the Clinton campaign paid him to protest at a rally for Donald Trump in Arizona. The article was from the website “abcnews.com.co” – with “ABC News” displayed prominently on its homepage.

But ABC News did not report that story. The story shared by Eric Trump to his more than 600,000 Twitter followers was false, and from a known fake-news website.

Incidents like these have become more commonplace, according to Richard Hornik, a lecturer at Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy. With so much information available to readers online, it’s now more difficult than ever to discern what’s reliable and what isn’t.

“The internet and social media has given everyone the capability to publish information,” Hornik said. “That’s empowered a lot of people, but that also carries with it great problems, and those problems have become more prevalent especially in the most recent election.”

Keep scrolling for advice on spotting fake or unreliable news sources. Clicking on the dots will reveal tips related to actual fake stories found on websites and social media.

1 1Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources. In this example, the entire site is branded as ABC News, a real news agency, but the URL is different. 2 2Check the “About Us” tab on websites for more information about the source. The contact page on this site shows a small building in Kansas and a description about the site and its founder uses language that would not be published by a veritable news organization. 3 3If a story makes you “really angry,” that can be a tactic used by a fake news organization to generate shares and ad revenue, wrote Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor of communications at Merrimack College.

Check your biases

“Most of us would prefer to look at news that confirms something we already believe,” Hornik said. That’s what makes getting information strictly from your social media feeds so perilous, he added. On Facebook you’re more likely to see posts and updates from likeminded people, creating an “echo chamber” in which most of the information shared and discussed is ideologically congruent with your beliefs, Hornik said.

To escape the echo chamber, experts recommend consuming information from a diverse array of sources.

“It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames,” Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor of communications at Merrimack College, wrote in a widely circulated list of unreliable media sources to avoid.

The image below is a screenshot of the fake story on Trump protesters from abc.com.co.

1 1If you’re skeptical of a story, try looking up someone quoted in the story. Not everyone is listed publicly, but most people have some kind of information about themselves on the internet. If you search for Paul Horner, of Arizona, it’s instantly clear that he’s actually a writer of fake news and not a legitimate source for this story. 2 2Be cognizant of opinions that are presented as facts. Even if an opinion appears as a quote, it should be supported by facts in the article. 3 3If an image is the evidence on which an entire story is based, you can often verify whether it is fake through programs like Google Image search and Tineye.com.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

“If something seems too weird, too funny, too perfect, take a step back and ask yourself could this really be right?” Hornik said, referring to a doctored picture of what appeared to be sharks swimming in the New York Stock Exchange that went viral after superstorm Sandy hit.

If you come across something that could be a hoax, Hornik suggests utilizing fact-checking websites like Politifact or Snopes, a site that recently tracked down the source of a rumor that 3 million noncitizens voted illegally during the election.

There are also several websites that can help you determine if an image is fake, such as Google Image search and Tineye.com.

1 1If you only like Facebook pages that are in line with your views or only follow likeminded people, that creates a Facebook “echo chamber,” in which you’re missing out on alternative perspectives. 2 2Language like “shocking” and “unprecedented” should make you take a more critical look at the facts of the story and the trustworthiness of the publication. Some fake websites use “distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits,” Zimdars wrote. 3 3Remember that when you spot something that has been shared on social media, you need to analyze both sources — the person or group that shared and the publisher. 4 4Just because something has been shared thousands of times does not make it true. Hornik also warns about stories that show up at the top of search engine results — the ranking does not equate to reliability.

“Rank does not equal reliability”

Even though a story may appear high in a list of Google search results, it may not be a dependable source, Hornik said.

For instance, Hornik notes that the sixth result in a Google search of “Martin Luther King Jr.” is a website whose homepage links to stories such as “Why the King Holiday Should be Repealed!” and “Black Invention Myths.”

The site is hosted by Stormfront, a white supremacist group.

“Don’t trust information from strangers”

If you see a questionable news story or headline, experts recommend checking out the social media accounts or websites that posted the information, and see whether there’s a listed author.

Check the “About Us” tab on suspect websites, do a quick Wikipedia search, or search on Snopes.com.

“If information is reliable, it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out who the author is. As I always tell my students, ‘Children are always told not to take candy from strangers, and you shouldn’t take information from strangers,’”Hornik said.

1 1Sites with reputable-sounding names can still post misleading headlines and stories, even alongside real news. Make sure to compare stories from very left- or right-leaning websites and blogs with other well-known news sources. 2 2Look for the name of the story’s author. “Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification,” Zimdars wrote. 3 3If a story is based on reporting by another news source, click on the link to that story. Check to see how well the two stories – and their headlines – line up.

Was that photo taken out of context?

Reporting real photos and videos out of context has become common practice for some hyperpartisan websites, Hornik notes.

In April, Occupy Democrats posted a video that allegedly showed police in North Carolina removing a woman from a bathroom for not looking feminine enough. The post went viral during the “bathroom bill” controversy, which aimed to block transgender individuals from using the public bathrooms of the sex with which they identify.

But Snopes.com found the same video was posted to Facebook in 2015, and there was no evidence that it was shot in North Carolina.

1 1A quick way to fact check stories that are based on photos or videos is to check for dates, said Hornik, who added that hoax sites commonly recycle old photos and present them out of context. In this video, the recycled footage of a woman being thrown out of a bathroom is not dated and turned out to be old.