Since fake news today is mostly disseminated through the internet, the 10 steps listed below can be applied to many aspects of determining if a site is legitimate, beyond just fake news.
1.) Do an eyeball test. Does the website have a clean and professional looking design? If there are advertisements, are they located in a proper place and espouse an aura of professionalism? Are attached images relevant, clean looking, and sited for source if copyrighted, or are they just cut and pasted and maybe cropped from a search engine seemingly at random? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you could potentially be looking at fake news. Fake news sites often are amateurish in quality, and have a lot of visual cues that could tip you off due to their lack of professionalism
2.) Is the source of the news reputable? If it’s a news outlet or media organization that you recognize, and people you know get their news from that source, like CNN, Fox News, BBC, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, etc. then it is not fake news. However, if it’s a news organization you never heard of, or it doesn’t have a organization title listed anywhere, research them online, they could be fake news, but you won’t know without doing a little digging.
4.) Are the domains in the URL legitimate? In an earlier post, I mentioned that when you look at the domain url addresses in links in potential spam emails, you need to keep in mind their source and the situations surrounding those sources. Often times, fake news sites will try to mimic real world counterparts that are authentic. So if you see what appears to be a CNN article, check the url and make sure it has cnn.com in the url and not say, cnn-news.co.to or something along that line.
5.) Is there an attributed author to the article, and if so, are they an identifiable and legitimate journalist? Fake news articles often do not have an author attributed, and if they do, sometimes it’s a fictitious name. Most reputable news organizations will have an author attributed, along with links to his or her profiles on social media sites and maybe a bio about them on their own website.
6.) Does the article present facts, or is there an underlying message or slant in the article’s content? Fake news articles are trying to create a political or social point, where as authentic news articles are generally presenting facts, and sometimes, depending on the organization, they might have an opinion based on those facts as well as a counterargument presented at the end of the article after the facts are established. If the article’s message is one sided, light or lacking on verifiable facts, and seems to be pushing a single viewpoint, chances are it’s fake news. However, if it’s fact base, fair and balanced, chances are it’s legitimate. Even Fox News presents both sides of the debate in their news articles.
7.) Are there legitimate sources and quotes cited or linked in the article? Most news articles will include the source of their information, and site them. It’s plagiarism and a career-ender to not quote and cite the sources they use for their information. Fake news sites, who are mostly not run by journalistic organizations, will lack this journalistic integrity. (For example, I am basing this informative list off of this graphical checklist).
8.) Make sure that the article has accurate spelling and grammar. Before I publish my blog posts, I read them 3 times for grammar and spelling, run spellcheck and run grammar check. Then my dad will normally read my posts almost as soon as I post them, and text me any mistakes he spots that I overlooked, so he in affect acts as my backup editor. Most legitimate news sites have editors who spellcheck and grammar check articles before publishing them, and often are quick to fix errors that get past their editors, and encourage the public to report such errors. A lot of fake news stories are written in a hurry to get a message out, so they are not edited. Often, as is the case with Russia’s operations to push out fake news, the authors are not native English speakers, so their fake news stories are often (but not always) chock full of grammatical and spelling errors.
9.) Find similar articles about the story. Legitimate news stories that you’d be reading are normally something that is important to a decent chunk of the reading population, and as such, they will be reported on by multiple sites, or sited in followup pieces by other organizations. Fake news, however, is the invention of creative minds, so they are not legitimate news stories, and thus are not normally reported by multiple sites. If you can’t find another site reporting the same story, then chances are it’s fake news.
10.) Check known websites that fact check news stories and work to weed out fake news. Snopes is a popular one, so is PolitiFact for political news stories. I like to use FactCheck personally myself, but all these fact checking sites generally do a good job of catching most fake news stories in their collective net because they make it their mission to fact check suspect stories and prove them true or false.