How to Spot Fake News

Tanita Cronk| Creative Writing Coordinator

The news is everywhere. It clogs up our Facebook feeds, scrolls across the bottom of our television screens, and worms its way into our emails.

But, how can we tell if what we are reading is real or fake? There are even articles that make us shake our heads and wonder, “is this a joke?”

Well, the Century College Library and The Century Times are here to help you out, with these 8 simple tips on what you should check for when reading the news.

  1. Read Beyond – Don’t just look at the headline! These can be outrageous in an effort to get you to click. This is called “click baiting.” You should read the whole article. Pay attention to the quality of the article. Are there simple mistakes with grammar and spelling? If so, you’ll probably need to be wary of this particular story. Check the quotes. If the story is about proteins in the human brain and quotes someone from Stanford University- look at who said it. Is it a neuroscience professor or the janitor? News articles that are controversial are more likely to have more quotes, which you should be able to look up too. Also, make sure the academic or professors in the article have the credentials on the subject that they are speaking about.
  1. Consider the Source – Look at the whole website. Check the about us page. Is it straightforward and not overblown or dramatic? Look at the domain and URL. For example, a political news article from a site like www.dennislickspaint.org is probably not a reliable source and is most likely fake. Check the site’s contact information. Is there a phone number and address available? If so, then the site’s reliability could be legit. Lastly, check the comments. People don’t like being fooled and will most likely call the author out.
  2. Check the Author – Google search them. Check their credibility, their point of view, Google the domain name, and see what pops up. You should be able to look up the writer’s educational background, past writing experiences, and other such items to determine their credibility. Have you seen their name before in other articles as a cited source? Even if they have been called out by others for writing fake news articles before, this will be available to you simply by typing their name into a search engine.
  1. Checking the Facts – Looking at supporting sources is one important tip to keep in mind when reading the news. Today, all readers have to read like fact checkers in order to determine the relevancy and reliability of what you are reading. Some things to keep in mind about fact checking are: Can you click the links? What happens when you do? Clicking on links in a news article should bring to information that supports what the author is writing about. Follow the info. Does it actually support the story? Also, before there was fake news, there was Photoshop and the fake pictures. Check those images. The picture should match the story. Do a reverse image search and see where that leads you.
  2. Look at the Date – Check the timeliness of the article. Is this a repost of old news? Reposts and outdated news articles are not always relevant to current events. Kim Gaffney, English Instructor, says that checking the date is important because “You want to make sure that the article is written recently, that it’s not an article or some other kind of writing that was released years ago; or about a different subject or about a different situation.” She says that having it be recent is very important so that “you’re sure that your source is accurate.”
  1. Check your Biases – Are your beliefs affecting your judgment? When reading the news, we should make sure to check our emotions as well. “If the claim/ ‘news’ too neatly fits your own world view, you should be cautious,” warns Professor Carl Chung (Philosophy). We are more likely to believe the news is real if we have a negative or positive image of certain subjects. Fake news and clickbait thrive when our emotions and reactions are up. If what you’re reading is getting an extreme reaction out of you, it may be best to rethink that articles reliability.
  1. Is this a Joke? – Beware The Onion and Clickhole. The Onion is a satirical printed newspaper and Clickhole is its online spinoff where the news is spoofed and as its core belief says “All content deserves to go viral.” These sites are outlandish and meant to be satire. Another site to beware is the blog. Most likely, in a blog, you are getting an opinion and not the whole story.
  1. Ask the Experts – Find real sources by visiting The Century College Library. According to resource librarian, Randi Madisen, this is the most important tip you should know. Asking for expert advice on resources and fact checking from a librarian “will save you time. It might take you a long time to find those facts but if you ask us, well, we’ll give you shortcuts and make it easier.”

Madisen also says that it is important for college students to be able to tell the difference between real and fake news because “it’s part of developing critical thinking skills. When you go to college you’re exposed to lots of different ideas. It’s important to be able to find the facts behind those ideas so you can think for yourself.”