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This chapter is from the book

How to Tell Real News from Fake News

With all the fake news and outright lies circulating online, how do you distinguish the false facts from the real ones? After all, if you can’t trust everything you see online (and you can’t), then you have to do your homework to separate fact from fiction. No one else will do it for you.

See if Facebook Flags It

Facebook is far and away the most used social medium today. Unfortunately, Facebook has also been the most common vehicle for fake news and misleading information due to users sharing inaccurate posts with their friends on the site.

As such, you need to be especially wary of the “news stories” and web links shared by your friends on Facebook. There’s a halfway decent chance that any given news item you see shared in your Facebook news feed is biased or fraudulent.

Facebook realizes this and has started flagging items that it believes are fake news. If a link in a post is suspected of being fake, you see a notice that says the link is disputed, and by which source(s). You can still click the link and read the source material, but at least you’ve been warned.

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A disputed link in a Facebook post.

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Facebook has also introduced a way for you to report posts that you think contain false information. On a computer, click the down arrow at the top-right corner of a post; on a mobile device, tap the down arrow or three dots in the same corner. Tap or click Report post and then, on the Choose a Reason screen or panel, select It’s a False News Story. You can then opt to mark this post as false news; block all future posts from this person; hide all posts from this person; or message this individual to let him know you think this article is false.

Consider the Source

Whether you’re dealing with Facebook or another social network, you should always consider where a piece of information came from. Some sources are more reliable than others—and some are obviously fake.

For example, if you see an article shared from CNN or ABC News or the AP, it’s real news. If the article comes from a source that’s less well-known, not known to you at all, or known to be a fake news site, you should treat that article with a grain of salt.

Verify with Multiple Sources

If you’re not sure about a given news article—either the article itself or the article’s source—then see if you can find a similar story from another source you know is reliable. That means opening up your web browser and doing an Internet search, or (if you’re on Facebook) just searching from the Search box at the top of the news feed page.

If you can’t find any corroborating stories then it’s likely the original story was fake. If you do find similar stories, but they’re all from similarly questionable sources, then the original story might still be fake. If, on the other hand, you find similar stories from trusted sources then the story is probably okay.

Consider What Is Being Said

Sometimes the best way to tell whether a story is fake is to simply trust your nose. If it smells fake, it probably is.

For example, would you believe a story with the headline “President Trump to Give All Legal Voters $1000”? Although this would be nice if true, it just doesn’t seem likely. It smells funny, and it is funny, too.

This doesn’t always go the other direction, however. Some fake news is designed to sound legitimate, even if it isn’t. A headline like “Firefighter Jailed 30 Days by Atheist Mayor for Praying at Scene of Fire” isn’t wildly outlandish, and it might even sound like something that could happen. It might pass your smell test, even though it’s fake from start to finish.

All in all, though, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem plausible, dig into it a little more to evaluate the source and legitimacy of the article. Don’t accept questionable content at face value.

Check with Snopes

When I’m not sure whether something is fake or real, I consult a site that specializes in debunking fake news and urban legends. Snopes (www.snopes.com) is a reliable source for debunking falsehoods or confirming truthful information you find on the Internet. It’s original and primary focus is on urban legends, but it’s become a fact-checking site for all sorts of fake (and real) news articles.

You can browse the latest and most popular news articles and urban legends, or use the top-of-page search box to search for specific news items in which you’re interested. Just enter the title of the questionable article and Snopes likely has information about it. Snopes tells you if a given article is true, false, or somewhere in between.

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Fact checking at the Snopes website

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Check with Media Bias/Fact Check

The Media Bias/Fact Check website (www.mediabiasfactcheck.com) lists most known major media outlets, and assigns them a place on a sliding left-to-right scale, in terms of bias. You can enter the name of a particular news website or organization and find out whether they have a leftward bias, a right-leaning bias, or are relatively unbiased. You can also find out a given site’s conspiracy level (Mild to Tin Foil Hat) and pseudo-science level (Mild to Quackery). It’s a great way to see how legitimate a site is, as well how biased it may be.

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Checking bias and conspiracy levels at Media Bias/Fact Check

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