How to outwit fake news in your Facebook feed


Just because it’s on the internet does not make it true. It seems so simple, but if everyone knew, Facebook and Google would not have to pull fake news pages from their advertising algorithms, and people would not breathlessly share stories claiming that Donald Trump is a secret lizard person or that Hillary Clinton is an android in pantsuit.

That does not have to be the case. False news is actually really easy to spot – if you know how. Consider this your guide to new media knowledge.

NOTE: When we put this together, we sought input from two communications experts: Dr. Melissa ZimdarsAssociate Professor at Merrimack College, Massachusetts whose dynamics list of unreliable news sites has gone viral, and Alexios MantzarlisLeader of International fact checking network at the Poynter Institute.

First, you need to know the different types of misleading and fake news

False news

  • These are the easiest to detect and often come from well-known fake sites designed to look like real news media. They may contain misleading photographs and headlines that at first reading sound like they could be genuine.
  • Misleading news

  • These are the most difficult to refute because they often contain a core of truth: a fact, event, or quote taken out of context. Look for sensational headlines that are not supported by the information in the article.
  • 3. Very party political news

  • A form of misleading news, this can be an interpretation of a real news event where facts are manipulated to fit an agenda.
  • 4. Clickbait

  • The shocking or teasing headlines in these stories trick you into clicking for more information – which may or may not live up to its promise.
  • 5. Satire

  • This one is harsh because satire does not pretend to be genuine and serves a purpose like commentary or entertainment. But if people are not familiar with a satire site, they can share the news as if it is legitimate.
  • Second, hone your skills to check the facts

  • Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact-checkers to make a living. He says it’s important to have a “healthy amount of skepticism” and to think, really think before sharing a news story.
  • “If we were a little slower to share and re-tweet content based solely on the headline, we would go a long way toward fighting fleshhoods,” he told CNN.
  • Melissa Zimdars points out that even those who spend a lot of time online are not immune to fake content.
  • “People believe this [thinking] only applies to older people, ”she told CNN. “I think that even early education should be teaching in communication, media and the internet. Growing up with the internet does not necessarily mean that you are internet savvy. ”
  • To begin with, here are 10 questions you should ask if something looks fake:

    says Zimdars sites with strange suffixes for example. “.co” or “.su”, or hosted by third-party platforms such as WordPress, should raise a red flag. Some fake sites, like the National Report, have legitimate, if not overly general, names that can easily fool people on social sites. For example, several fake reports from went viral before they were denied, including an article in June claiming that President Obama signed an order banning the sale of assault weapons.

    Mantzarlis says one of the biggest reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is because people get sucked in by a headline and do not bother to click through.

    Just this week, several dubious organizations circulated a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. The Pepsi SHARE plunges after CEO tells Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere,” trumpeted such a headline.

    But the articles themselves did not contain that quote or evidence that Pepsi’s stock saw a marked decline (it did not). Nooyi made recorded comments about Trump’s election, but was never quoted as telling his supporters to “take their business elsewhere.”

    Sometimes legitimate news stories can be distorted and resurrected years after the fact to create a false mix of events. Mantzarlis recalls a flawed story that actually quoted a legitimate news item from CNNMoney.

    A blog called Viral Liberty recently reported that Ford had moved production of some of their trucks from Mexico to Ohio due to Donald Trump’s election victory. The story quickly caught fire online – after all, it seemed like a big win for the domestic car industry.

    It turns out that Ford moved some production from Mexico to Ohio – in 2015. It had nothing to do with the election result at all.

    Photos and videos can also be taken out of context in support of a false claim. In April, the liberal site Occupy Democrats posted a video allegedly showing a young woman being removed from a bathroom by police because she did not look feminine enough. This was below the height of the HB2 controversy over “bathroom billing”, and the article clearly linked the two. “IT BEGINS,” read the headline.

    However, there was no date on the video or evidence that it was filmed in North Carolina where the “bathroom bill” was to be passed.

    In fact, according to Snopes, the same video was posted on a Facebook page in 2015, meaning it preceded the HB2 controversy.

    It’s not just political news that can be fake. Now8News is one of the most notorious fake-but-similar-real-sites, specializing in the kind of weird news stories that often go viral.

    One such article claims that Coca-Cola recalled Dasani water bottles after a “clear parasite” was found in the water. There was even an accompanying image that allegedly showed the parasite, although some basic google reveals that it is most likely a photo of a young eel.

    Whatever the article had no statement or claim from any company. That would clearly be a big story. Dasani or any number of consumer groups will publish statements or press releases about it, right? There is no one to find – because the story is 100% false.

    Other 98%

    A favorite meme from liberal Facebook groups contains a fake quote from Donald Trump, which is allegedly from a People Magazine interview in 1998:

    “If I had to run, I would run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe in anything on Fox News. I could lie, and they would still eat it up. I’ll bet that my numbers would be amazing.

    This is easily refuted if you spend a moment thinking about it: has extensive archives, and this quote is nowhere to be found in them.

    During this election season, Pope Francis was drawn into three superviral and completely false stories. According to various (fake) websites, the pope approved three US presidential candidates: First, Bernie Sanders, as “reported” by National Report and Then Donald Trump, as “reported” by the fake news site WTOE 5 News. Finally, another fake news site reported that he had supported Hillary Clinton!

    In all these cases, subsequent reports all circled back to the fake ones. It’s always good to trace a story back to the original sourceand if you are in a loop – or if they all lead back to the same questionable side – you have reason to doubt.

    JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    Both Zimdars and Mantzarlis say confirmation bias is a major reason fake news spreads like it does. Some of it is built into Facebook’s algorithm – the more you like or interact with a particular interest, the more Facebook will show you related to that interest.

    Similarly, if you hate Donald Trump, you are more likely to believe that negative stories about Donald Trump are true, even if there is no evidence.

    “We’re looking for information that already fits with our established beliefs,” says Zimdars. “If we come in contact with information we do not agree with, it can still confirm us because we will try to find fault.”

    So if you find a scandalous article that feels “too good to be true”, be careful: it just might be.

    Did you know that there is in fact an international fact-checking network (led by Mantzarli)? And that it has a code of principle? The code includes, among other things, the ideals of non-partisanship and transparency. Sites like, Snopes, and Politifact abide by this code, so if you see a debunking there, you know you get the right item. See the full list here.

    It is here things can get difficult. There is obviously a big difference between “misleading” news, which is usually based on factual facts, and “fake” news, which is just fiction disguised as facts. Zimdars’ now famous list covers both types as well as satire and websites that utilize clickbait-like headlines. Snopes also maintains a list.

    While Zimdars is happy that her list has received so much attention, she also warns that it is not accurate to list some of the sites as “fake”. “I want to make sure that this list does not do a great disservice to the ultimate goal,” she says. “It’s interesting that some of the headlines [about my list] are as hyperbolic as the ones I analyze. ”

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