Here's how to outsmart fake news in your Facebook feed


Just because it's on the internet doesn't make it true. It seems so simple, but if everyone knew, Facebook and Google wouldn't need to remove fake news sites from their advertising algorithms and people wouldn't breathlessly share stories claiming that Donald Trump is a secret lizard or that Hillary Clinton is an android . in a trouser suit.

It doesn't have to be this way. Fake news is actually really easy to spot – if you know how. Consider it your guide to new media literacy.

NOTE: As we put this together, we asked for input from two communications experts: Dr. Melissa Zimdarsassociate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts whose dynamics list of unreliable news sites went viral and Alessio Mantzarlisthe head of the International fact-checking network at the Poynter Institute.

First, know the different types of misleading and fake news

1. Fake news

  • These are the easiest to debunk and often come from well-known fictitious sites designed to look like real news outlets. They may include photographs and misleading titles that, at first reading, appear real.
  • 2. Misleading news

  • These are the hardest to debunk, because they often contain a kernel of truth: a fact, event, or quote that has been taken out of context. Look for sensational headlines that are not supported by the information in the article.
  • 3. Highly partisan news

  • A type of misleading news story, this could be an interpretation of a real news event in which facts are manipulated to fit an agenda.
  • 4. Clickbaits

  • The shocking or provocative headlines of these stories tempt you to click for more information, which may or may not live up to what's promised.
  • 5. Satire

  • This is difficult, because satire does not pretend to be factual and serves a purpose of commentary or entertainment. But if people aren't familiar with a satirical site, they may share the news as if it were legitimate.
  • Second, sharpen your fact-checking skills

  • Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact-checkers for a living. According to him, it is important to have a “healthy dose of skepticism” and think, really think, before sharing news.
  • “If we were a little slower to share and retweet content based solely on the headline, we would be making a good step forward in the fight against nonsense,” he told CNN.
  • Melissa Zimdars points out that even those who spend a lot of time online are not immune to fake content.
  • “People think this [thinking] it only applies to older people,” he told CNN. “I think early education should also teach communication, media and the Internet. Growing up with the Internet doesn't necessarily mean being Internet savvy.
  • To get you started, here are 10 questions you should ask if something seems fake:

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

    2. Does the title match the information in the article?

    Mantzarlis says one of the main reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is because people get sucked into a headline and Don't worry about clicking.

    Just this week, several dubious organizations broke a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. “Pepsi Stocks Slump After CEO Tells Trump Supporters to 'Take Their Business Elsewhere,'” trumpeted one such headline.

    However, the articles themselves did not contain that quote or evidence that Pepsi's stock had dropped significantly (it had not). Nooyi made recorded comments about Trump's election, but was never quoted telling his supporters to “take their business elsewhere.”

    Sometimes legitimate news can be distorted and resurrected years after the fact to create a false conflation of events. Mantzarlis recalls an erroneous story that actually cited a legitimate CNNMoney story.

    A blog called Viral Liberty recently reported that Ford had moved production of some of its trucks from Mexico to Ohio due to Donald Trump's election victory. The story quickly gained traction online – after all, it looked like a big win for the domestic auto industry.

    It turns out that Ford moved some production from Mexico to Ohio in 2015. This had nothing to do with the election results.

    Photos and videos can be too taken out of context to support a false claim. In April, the liberal website Occupy Democrats posted a video showing a young woman being removed from the bathroom by police because she didn't look feminine enough. This was during the height of the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy, and the article clearly linked the two. “START,” the title reads.

    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 to a Facebook page in 2015, meaning it predated the HB2 controversy.

    5. Does the article cite primary sources?

    It's not just political news that can be fake. Now8News is one of the most infamous fake-but-real-looks sites, specializing in the kind of weird news that often goes viral.

    One such article states that Coca-Cola recalled Dasani water bottles after a “transparent parasite” was found in the water. There was also a disgusting image supposedly showing the parasite, although some Google searches reveal that it is most likely a photo of a young eel.

    Regardless, the item had no representations or claims made by any company. Clearly this would be a great story. Dasani or any consumer advocacy group would issue statements or press releases about this, right? None can be found, because the story is 100% false.

    6. Does the story contain quotes and are they traceable?

    One of the favorite memes of liberal Facebook groups features a fake Donald Trump quote supposedly from a People Magazine interview in 1998:

    “If I were to run, I would run as a Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they would still eat it. I bet my numbers would be great.

    This is easily debunked if you even take a moment to think about it: has extensive archives, and this the quote is nowhere to be found in them.

    During this election season, Pope Francis has been caught in three super viral and completely false stories. According to various (false) websites, the Pope has supported three US presidential candidates: the 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 they supported Hillary Clinton!

    In all these cases, the subsequent reports all returned to the false ones. It's always good trace a story back to its original sourceand if you find yourself in a loop – or if they all lead back to the same dubious site – you have reason to doubt.

    01 Clinton Trump divided WEB MOBILE

    Both Zimdars and Mantzarlis say so confirmation bias is a big reason This is how fake news spreads. Part of this is built into Facebook's algorithm: the more you like or engage with a certain interest, the more Facebook will show you related to that interest.

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

    “We look for information that already fits our established beliefs,” Zimdars says. “If we come into contact with information that we don't agree with, it may still validate us because we will try to find fault.”

    So if you find an outrageous article that seems “too good to be true,” beware: it might be.

    Did you know that there is actually an international fact-checking network (led by Mantzarlis)? And that it has a code of principles? The code includes, among others, the ideals of impartiality and transparency. Sites like, Snopes, and Politifact abide by this code, so if you see a debunk there, you know it you're getting the real deal. View the entire list here.

    This is where things can get complicated. There is obviously a big difference between “misleading” news, which is usually based on fact, and “fake” news, which is just fiction disguised as fact. Zimdars' now-famous list covers both types, as well as satire and sites that exploit clickbait-type headlines. Snopes also maintains a list.

    While Zimdars is happy that his list has received so much attention, he also warns that completely eliminating some sites as “fake” is not accurate. “I want to make sure this list doesn't do a disservice to the end goal,” she says. “It's interesting that some titles [about my list] they are just as hyperbolic as the ones I'm analyzing.”

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *