If you spent any manner of time on the Internet in 2016, you probably noticed the term “fake news” being thrown around. It seems that the events of 2016 helped fuel an epidemic of the writing, posting, and sharing of articles posing as factual news releases. In reality, they were nothing more than clickbait attempts at generating revenue through the spreading of nearly unbelievable stories that captivated the emotions of many.
It’s never fun when you read something awe-inspiring online and then find out later that you were tricked into believing something entirely untrue. It’s also embarrassing when you share the latest “breaking news” – showing your friends that you’re one of the first people in the know – and then that news ends up being fake. Your reputation could take a hit, and in the future, people you connect with will tend not to believe your stories.
So how do you combat this? There are people who make their livings by posting and promoting fake news online, and they try their hardest to get you to believe in what they’re writing. So how are you to possibly know if a news source is legitimate or not? In this guide, we’ll cover absolutely everything you need to know about identifying and avoiding fake news. We’ll explain what it is (and what it isn’t), give you tips for how to recognize and avoid it, explain Facebook’s controversy with fake news, and identify 27 of the worst websites that are spreading false news – so you’ll know to steer clear of them from now on.
Let’s start with the basics: what is Fake News?
Fake news is a deliberately untrue published article that uses ideas and misconceptions that people want to hear or will share. Its publishers aim to have it shared quickly, thereby generating revenue through advertisements and affiliate marketing from a continuously growing audience until it is noticed to be false.
The main thing to remember is that fake news is meant to trick the person reading it. Most people would have a difficult time knowing if the source is legitimate, which is why these articles are shared so often. In many cases, fake news stories are shared just as much as legitimate ones – or sometimes more.
Fake news is not the same as an honest mistake in the research and writing process, nor is it meant as social commentary. There’s a big difference between websites that intentionally trick readers with fake stories, and satirical websites like The Onion, Waterford Whispers News, Clickhole, and The Daily Mash. These websites take points from real news stories and exaggerate them in a humorous way in order to entertain their audience. These stories are not meant to be taken seriously, though when read incorrectly, they can be mistaken for fake news by a less-than-diligent reader.
6 tips to avoid fake news sites and determine if a news website is trustworthy
1. Look for sources for the article.
The most obvious thing to look for to determine if an article is legitimate is its sources. Any article that doesn’t cite other sources for information is most likely illegitimate or false, and does not conform to even the most basic standards of journalism. Sources should be listed throughout the article, or at the end in a reference section. Technically, any claim made that isn’t common knowledge should be backed up by a source, especially if those claims are political.
In addition, there’s a big difference between a legitimate source and an illegitimate source. Good sources come from credible witnesses, government websites, educational institutions, and the like. Citing other websites that aren’t official or credible is almost as bad as not citing sources at all. Make sure to review the references in the article to determine if the article is rooted in fact.
2. Review other articles on the website.
Once you’ve read an article you might be thinking about sharing, it’s a good idea to browse around on the rest of the website to see what other kind of information they are putting out there. Because search engine algorithms have started becoming more advanced in terms of detecting fake news, some websites will mix real news in to try to fool the search engines – and you!
If you see a lot of other questionable articles or strange advertisements, the article might be questionable. In general, trustworthy sites have exclusively trustworthy content, and will not have a lot of other articles that you feel you need to question.
3. Look for other websites reporting the same story.
If you read a story that seems a little outlandish, try searching for its keywords in a search engine like Google.com. If you can find other websites reporting on the same story, it’s more likely that the story is going to be true (though of course, this is not always the case). In addition, make sure the other sites that this story is reported on are also trustworthy! If they look questionable, the story may be untrue.
4. Try to find instant giveaways of inauthenticity: all caps, lots of punctuation, poor editorial standards.
When titles and text appear in all capital letters, have a lot of punctuation, or don’t seem to follow proper spelling and grammar, they likely weren’t written by a qualified writer. Oftentimes, they are simply trying to get your attention instead of telling you what the story is about. Articles that have attention-grabbing titles that leave you hanging are also sometimes a trap, as they require you to click on them to even know what the article is about. For example, something like: “You won’t believe what this woman did to her husband when she saw him…”
5. Read the “About Us” section.
Always check out the “About Us” section on a news website, which should usually be located at the top of bottom of its home page. On that page, the creator should tell you what type of website they are, including if their content is meant as satire or is otherwise not grounded in fact.
In addition, it’s also a huge tipoff if a news-related website doesn’t have an “About Us” page. This is typically a way to refrain from putting in writing that their articles are often untrue. If you can’t find information about where a website gets their information from, and who they employ to write their articles, then the website is definitely questionable.
6. Check images: do they really match the content?
Take a look at the images included with the article. If they are clearly edited, mashed together from separate pictures, or stolen from other websites (that you’ve seen them on many times before), then the article may not be trustworthy. When press releases occur, there is plenty of opportunity for photography, so an article claiming to report on events stated by someone that does not have proper accompanying photographs may not be trustworthy. At the very least, they probably didn’t get their information first-hand.
Useful websites with explanations of what fake news is and tips on recognizing fake news
How Stuff Works – 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Story
10 tips on how to tell if the story you’re looking at is true or false.
CNET – How to avoid getting conned by fake news sites
This article explains ways to flag news sites as fake, including detailed instructions for identifying fake images or common text appearing in the source code of fake news websites.
NBC News – 5 Tips on How to Spot Fake News Online
5 tips for identifying a fake news site, including an explanation for why we have such difficulty recognizing when a news article is fake.
Business Insider – Fed up with fake news, Facebook users are solving the problem with a simple list
A simple list of bullet points to help you recognize and avoid fake news websites that frequently release untrue articles. If you see these hints in a news website, steer clear.
The Telegraph – What is Fake News and How It Grew Under Donald Trump
This article helps you gain an understanding of what fake news is, where it came from, and how it became so prevalent throughout 2016.
BBC News – Fake news in 2016: What it is, what it wasn’t, how to help
This article explains many of the news hoaxes in 2016 and where they originated, so you become more aware of what fake news is and what it isn’t, including which ones were outright forgeries and which ones were simply the result of exaggerations and research errors.
Facebook and its struggle against fake news
How Facebook became the largest spreader of fake news
With a potential audience of 1.8 billion monthly active users, Facebook obviously has one of the biggest potentials for global sharing of any website in the world. In recent years, sharing posts on Facebook has become commonplace, as people often click “Share” without even thinking. You can even share something after only reading the headline; you don’t even have to read the article and find out what it’s about. If something gives you an immediate emotional reaction, sometimes you feel obligated to share it, and Facebook offers the largest available online audience.
These points all make it incredibly easy for untrue information to spread easily. With Facebook as the means, it didn’t take long for fake news to spread like wildfire. People are more likely to trust something they see their friend sharing on Facebook, as they believe that that person has performed enough diligence in determining if the article is factual or not. Therefore, they often just click “Share” without doing their own fact-checking. By making it easy to share anything, Facebook makes it far too easy to spread false news. So what can we do to stop this?
What Facebook is doing to combat fake news in the future
Though the action of determining if a source is legitimate or not, ultimately, falls to the user, Facebook has taken recent action to make sure they do more to weed out untrue news articles. Facebook is updating their algorithms to find more keywords associated with made-up news. They are also having the term “fake news” tracked in comments to find fake news posts and anything reported by others. This helps them take fake news down faster than it can be shared.
Google is also taking action against these kinds of false stories. If you want to learn more, you can read about how Google has banned 200 fake news sites. If you want to learn about how to remove fake news posts on Facebook and see less of them, read below!
How to remove a fake news post on Facebook:
- Go to www.facebook.com and sign into your Facebook account.
- Locate the questionable post on your timeline.
- Click the arrow in the top-right corner of the post.
- Click Delete on the drop-down menu.
- Click the blue Delete Post button on the pop-up screen.
- Refresh the page, and your post will disappear forever.
If you need more tips on controlling who sees what you post on Facebook, check out our tutorial on Facebook privacy settings.
How to remove customize your Newsfeed on Facebook to see less fake news:
- Sign into your Facebook account.
- Click the arrow at the top-right of the menu on each page.
- Click News Feed Preferences on the drop-down menu.
- Scroll through the available menus, and change your settings as needed.
- Consider clicking Unfollow people to hide their posts to stop following fake news posters.
Other useful articles on Facebook’s struggle with fake news
Forbes – Fake News: How Big Data and AI Can Help
This article explains how Facebook is improving their algorithms to flag fake news, and how users are finding ways around it to have their posts seen.
Buzzfeed – Here Are 50 of the Biggest Fake News Hits on Facebook from 2016
A list of the top 50 fake news stories shared on Facebook in 2016, separated into categories and illustrated with statistics.
Vox – Facebook’s Fake News Problem, Explained
This article analyzes how the Internet has changed in recent years, as well as how companies like Facebook and Google need to combat fake news while preventing bias.
The Toronto Star – How Two Unemployed Guys Got Rich Off Facebook Fake News and an Army of Trump Supporters
A story of two men who intentionally wrote fake news stories during the 2016 American presidential election, and built a lucrative business off of it.
Facebook – A Post from Mark Zuckerberg on Fake News (must have a Facebook account to view)
Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook post addressing how fake news has become prevalent on Facebook, and how Facebook is taking social responsibility by working to improve their algorithms to detect it.
27 of the worst fake news sites
|Name of Website||Type of News|
|abcnews.com.co||Imitates the existing and legitimate news website abcnews.com to trick you|
|bloomberg.ma||Imitates Bloomberg.com, an existing and legitimate news website, to trick you|
|cnn-trending.com||Imitates CNN.com, and appears to show real CNN news stories|
|usatoday.com.co||Imitates the legitimate news website usatoday.com to trick you|
|washingtonpost.com.co||Imitates the Washington Post news website to trick you|
|Prntly||Lack of appropriate sources to support articles (Conservative-biased)|
|Red Flag News|
|The Last Line of Defence|
|Liberty Writers News|
|Your News Wire|
|Firebrand Left||Lack of appropriate sources to support articles (Liberal-biased)|
|Activist Post||Lack of appropriate sources to support articles (Conspiracy theories)|
|Before It’s News||Lack of appropriate sources to support articles (Unqualified contributors)|
|The News Buzz Daily||Publishes fake news about celebrities|
|Global Associated News||Allows users to create rumours and fake news stories, and then share them|
|News Hounds||Publishes edited Fox News stories|
|The Onion||Satirical news, sometimes mistaken for real and fake news|
|The Daily Mash|
Websites that can help you identify a fake news site (by URL or other means):
Fake News Watch
A simple list of known fake news websites. It also allows you to search for a website you’re suspicious about.
This website checks the political promises made my politicians and keeps track of their progress, while also noting news stories that appear that are untrue.
Fake News Checker
An alphabetized list of known fake news websites, as well as sites that tend to have an extreme bias (even when reporting news that is loosely “true”).
CBS News – Don’t Get Fooled by These Fake News Sites
A slideshow of popularly-known fake news websites, complete with notes about stories they have previously falsely reported.
This website takes popular trending stories and fact checks them, so you don’t have to! If you hear something outlandish, check it out on Snopes.
2016 fake news controversies
Why was 2016 such a big year for fake news?
As time has gone on, it has become easier than ever to share stories and articles with social media – and have hundred to millions of people impacted instantly. The 2016 American presidential election was particularly controversial, as many people believe that the prevalence of fake news throughout the campaign period impacted the outcome.
It has also become commonplace for Internet entrepreneurs to make use of affiliate marketing strategies. That is, they direct Internet traffic from one page (say, a trending fake news story) to an e-commerce website, hoping users make a purchase so that they can get a percentage of the sale. Fake news websites are perfect for this kind of marketing and revenue generation; they have massive amounts of users viewing their pages, giving them plenty of opportunity to advertise businesses looking to cash in.
Other great articles about 2016 fake news stories to keep you in the know
Financial Times – Hard Truths About Fake News
An exploration of how prevalent fake news actually is, and how much of a danger it poses to us in the future.
Buzzfeed – This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook
The title speaks for itself! An examination of how fake news stories about the 2016 American presidential election were more popular than real news stories on Facebook.
Wired – The Internet Made ‘Fake News’ a Thing – Then Made It Nothing
A detailed timeline and analysis that tracks how fake news created a state of moral panic in 2016.
Business Insider – This is what fake news actually looks like — we ranked 11 election stories that went viral on Facebook
An evaluation of 11 fake news stories related to the 2016 American presidential election that became wildly popular on Facebook… despite their lack of truth.
The Hill – Fake News Site Gains More than 1M Views in Less Than 2 Weeks
An article describing how James McDaniel, resident of Costa Rica, created a fake news website, and made money posting fake news stories during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The New York Times – How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study
A story about a less-than-diligent social media user who fabricated a story related to the 2016 American presidential election story that went viral almost instantly, despite the fact that it was completely fabricated.
Stanford University – Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election
An essay by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow on the role of fake news prior to the 2016 American presidential election, and its impact on the outcome.
We’ve thrown a lot of information at you, but the most important takeaway is to choose what you post and share on your social media pages carefully and responsibly. Remember our number one caveat for using social media: once somebody shares something that you’ve posted, you can never take it back. Though it’s important to keep properly informed on the news of the day, you also need to think about preserving your reputation and credibility, not to mention your social responsibility for posting truthful content.
Make sure you comment below if you know of any other fake news sites that we should add to our list! And check out these other great resources about fake news if you want to learn more: