Skip to main content

How to Identify Fake News — How Can I Tell if a News Story is Fake?

Resources

Stop. Investingate the Source. Find Better Coverage. Trace claims, quotes, and media to original context

  • Stop.
  • Investigate the source.
  • Find better coverage.
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.

Learn how here:

What Makes a News Story Fake?

  • It can’t be verified: A fake news article may or may not have links in it tracing its sources; if it does, these links may not lead to articles outside of the sites’ domain or may not contain information pertinent to the article’s topic.

  • Fake News appeals to emotion: Fake news plays on your feelings – it makes you angry or happy or scared. This is to ensure you don’t do anything as pesky as fact-checking.

  • Authors usually aren’t experts: Most authors aren’t even journalists, but paid trolls.

  • It can’t be found anywhere else: If you look up the main idea of a fake news article, you might not find any other news outlet (real or not) reporting on the issue.

  • Fake news comes from fake sites: Did your article come from abcnews.com.co? Or mercola.com? Or Realnewsrightnow.com? These and a host of other URLs are fake news sites.

Four Moves

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

 

In general, you can try these moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

When you encounter a claim you want to check, your first move might be to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim (Check for previous work).

If you can’t find previous work on the claim, start by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, try to find the journal it appeared in. If the claim is about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported (Go upstream).

Maybe you get lucky and the source is something known to be reputable, such as the journal Science or the newspaper the New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source you’ve ended up at and asking whether it is trustworthy (Read laterally).

And if at any point you fail–if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims–then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source (Circle back).

Created by Mike Caulfield.

Want to learn why he came up with this?