What is fake news and how can you identify it?

While not specifically about fixing computers, all of us here at Dave’s Computers in New Jersey are concerned about the prevalence of fake news and the effects it has on decisions we make. As it is everywhere online, I thought it might be a good idea to help you identify fake news so you can safely ignore it.

You don’t need to be a Trump supporter to dislike fake news. It is everywhere and seeks to influence all kinds of decisions, not just democratic ones. Not too long ago, all you had to contend with was political bias from the news outlets. Now anyone can be a journalist and anyone can publish online. So how can you spot the real from the fake?

Check your sources

Nobody should get their news from Facebook. The social network is for keeping in touch with friends and posting stuff about your life. It is not a reliable news source. If you spot something interesting online, look elsewhere to see if the story is repeated on a credible news website before accepting it as truth. If one or more reliable news websites are also carrying the story, it may be true. Don’t just take their word for it though.

Check the domain name and actual source of the news. If the domain name is not a top level domain, e.g. a .com address, be suspicious. If the author is someone you have never heard of before, check them out. If they have never written anything in their name but suddenly release multiple news stories, be very suspicious.

Check the facts

With the prevalence of fake news, some organizations have taken it upon themselves to check facts. Three useful sites are:

  • org – monitors the accuracy of U.S. political stories.
  • PolitiFact – also verifies political news stories.
  • Snopes – Checks broader news and rumors.

If something you read online is going to influence a decision you’re going to make, checking it out is essential.

Check the content

Reading between the lines and past the headline is essential for spotting fake news. Does the article sound like obvious clickbait? Are there spelling or obvious grammar errors on the page? Is the piece making wild claims or sound too good to be true? Are the images taken from elsewhere? If so, treat the piece with suspicion.

If sources cited in the content are not independent, are not credible, qualified or regular commentators or authors, discount them.

Finally, check the website’s About page. If it’s empty, non-existent or in poor English, be suspicious of the contents of the site. If the owner cannot be bothered to complete a proper About page, are they really going to perform due diligence on the news they feature?

Sorting fake news from real is not easy but it is possible. Finding a reliable news source is best but if you like to explore the internet, checking further than the headline will help you remain informed and not scammed.