Fake news has been an issue for anyone who peruses the internet for years. With anyone having access to build their own website and publish whatever content they want to, it’s no surprise that some people literally make a living out of publishing fake news. Social media algorithms share things with more engagement, so these people know that sharing something controversial, even if it’s wrong, will get more attention. However, it’s important that you know how to spot it. In today’s article, we’re going to tell you how to spot fake news in 5 easy steps.

The problem with fake news is that it can be dangerous. Why? Because it helps to fuel potential negative responses based on knee-jerk reactions and not the actual truth. Not only is it important to be cautious about not sharing fake news as a person, but it’s also especially important to not share fake news if you are representing a business. 

We get it. Almost every business has a social media profile. Daily, business owners, marketers, and workers have to come up with content to post and share. Sometimes, it can be much easier to just grab an article relating to your industry and blast it out. But it’s not always a good idea to do that. 

In today’s climate, where most of the world is sheltering at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fake news is spreading all over the place. Before COVID-19 broke out, it was political news all over the place spreading misinformation. But of course, you can find fake news about virtually any topic. 

But how do you know if what you are sharing is reputable? Not sure if it’s reputable? Here are a few ways to check.

1) Do you know if the original source is trustworthy?

This can be a little hard to figure out. Fake news isn’t just spread via articles, after all. It can also be shared via photos, videos, GIFs, and a myriad of other media. 

For instance, this image is currently spreading and somehow it’s beginning to be associated with the author, Dean Koontz. From researching it a little more, the image is actually from Sylvia Browne, who was apparently physic before she died in 2013. The book was published in 2008 and called “End of Days.”

So while there may be some truth, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s being circulated giving credit to the wrong person, and the original author may or may not have had real credibility, depending on your personal opinions. 

If you find something on the internet that makes a bold claim, do your best research to find the source. After all, that photo I put above in this post, is a screenshot from a person I have never heard of in my life. I could easily take it, make up some different story around it, and post it on social media myself. It would take me about 10 seconds to do it. In other words, they aren’t a trustworthy source.

While this can be harder to do with an image, most news sites list the author of the article. Often, by selecting their name, you can find other articles they have written for the publication. Another helpful tip is to see if you can find the person and validate their credentials on sites like LinkedIn or even Twitter.

2) If you share from a “news” site, is it a reputable site?

If it’s a website that you can’t find any real information about, that’s a red flag. Again, anyone can write up a biography or an about page, but it’s your responsibility to do some additional digging to see if the website is real or not. We’ve seen this to be especially true with “health” websites, claiming they have the magic cure for everything. But a quick search around the sites show a lack of sources and a lack of overall credibility. 

Just for fun, we found a Wikipedia article including a list of fake news websites. If you take a quick glance at that list, you’ll notice a few websites that look incredibly similar to the actual source. For instance, ABCnews.com.co (a now-defunct website) instead of ABCnews.com. 

In the case of websites, it’s a good idea to go to the original source of the publication and research the website. Make sure the website URL and website name are the same. Also, check to see if the website includes an SSL certificate. You can easily tell this by seeing if the website begins with http: or https:. You may just see a little lock next to the URL bar, too.

3) Is the research valid?

Many articles and fake news articles alike will talk about research. People are trained to believe that research is done by smart people. No one would ever post fake research!?!? Or would they? Of course, they would! 

I’ve seen dozens of articles that list off something like, “a study was done in England…” Great. A study was done. It leaves me asking, what else? Who was the study conducted by? How were the results gathered? 

Studies should be done by reputable sources. We are a marketing agency, so we even perform studies through things like surveys or focus groups. Every time we present them to our clients, their final presentation includes things like the duration of the study, the number of participants in the study, the number of responses received, etc. Any legitimate study or research that is performed should have data surrounding that study to back it up. If you can’t find any, run the other direction. 

On the other hand, if that information came from a university or a well-recognized specialist or company in a particular field, that’s fantastic. 

You should also make sure you understand a bit more about the study. Was it done with a large sample size? If they’re only testing 20 people in one country and are making claims that this applies worldwide, that’s not a helpful result. You might also see conclusions that sound too good to be true. Think of all the “Chocolate cures cancer” articles that you might have seen. Once you dig deeper, you find that the research only shows mild changes. The more sensationalized title is easier to understand though so it’s likely to be shared widely.

4) Can you find any additional publications or reputable sources that agree with what you’re posting?

If you are posting something on social media, but you can only find one source of where the information came from, that should be a red flag. If it’s newsworthy, the majority of times, the content will be published in various publications. Even if there are opposing spins on the same information, as long as the original source is consistent, that’s a good sign. 

Again, you want to make sure that whoever is posting the information is reputable. If you see the same information circulating in places that you don’t trust, then move on.

Keep in mind, that while your friends may be smart, good people, they might not be a reputable source either. It’s easy to go on autopilot with social media and share things from people you trust and like. They might not have done their research though. Make sure you do it and if you find that they’re sharing misinformation, let them know. You don’t need to be rude about it, but most reasonable people want to know when they’ve shared something that’s inaccurate.

5) Research what you’re posting.

I know, I know. This can be time consuming and annoying. After all, who has time to do research when it’s easier just to press a share button before ever knowing all of the information? 

I’m going to be blunt here for a moment, though. If you don’t take the time to research content, and instead you continually share content without proper vetting of that content, then you are part of the problem of spreading fake news. You likely don’t mean to be, and you probably don’t want to be, but if you’re misinformed about what you’re sharing and then others are misinformed and continue to share things, that’s problematic. 

It’s easy to look at something, have it spark a feeling (anger, frustration, joy, or more) and want to instantly share that feeling with others. That’s what social media thrives on. Fake news curators expect you to get outraged and reshare their content. If something sounds too good to be true or like a sensationalized story, it probably is. If something invokes a strong feeling, investigate it.

You can always learn more about a topic. So I encourage you to not get lackadaisical when it comes to the content that you’re sharing. 

So before you go trying to get your friends all riled up with articles, images, and videos that may or may not be true, you should probably know what you’re talking about. 

Our advice of caution: If you can’t tell if it’s fake or not, don’t share it!