It helps if you know what to look for—and what to avoid
By Lola Augustine Brown
uch has been reported about news stories from less-than-reliable news sources flooding the Internet—many on Facebook—causing people to believe things that simply aren’t true. The reason fake news stories are so persuasive—and so many people fall for them and share them, spreading the lies and rumours—is that they tend to look legitimate. The news sites cited will have names that sound like other, established sites and will be laid out like stories you’d see on reputable online news sites. They also tend to elaborate on existing rumours or to build on things we already know, creating an air of authenticity. However, there are signs you can look for that will help you determine whether a news source is reliable.
First, if you’ve never heard of the website behind a news story, put your skeptic’s hat on and consider the following: Does the story seem heavily biased towards one political leaning? Is the story inflammatory, providing little in the way of hard facts? Is it shocking but being reported only on this site? Reputable news outlets, even those leaning left or right, are unlikely to run a highly speculative story about Hilary Clinton being linked to the murder of an FBI agent (a high profile fake news story that went viral).
Look at the web address of the news site. Most reputable sites are going to have a .com or .ca domain (or .co.uk if you’re looking at a UK news organization, .com.au for Australia, etc). If it ends in something like .su or .co, that could be a strong sign the site is fake. Such extensions are among the criteria that Facebook will use when determining which sites to ban.
The most important thing to do before sharing any news story with friends or family online is to read the whole article to allow you to judge its quality. Too many people are in the habit of reading a headline only and then getting fired up and then sharing it with others. These articles are designed to get you emotional. They are click-bait, pure and simple, designed to drive traffic to their websites so that they can increase ad revenue. Reading the whole story might stop you from embarrassing yourself by sharing something from a satirical news site such as The Onion or The Beaverton and commenting in a way that shows others you believed the story to be true.