what is fake news?

The New York Times defined “fake news” on the Internet as false articles deliberately fabricated to deceive readers, generally with the goal of profiting through clickbait. Clickbait is content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

PolitiFact described fake news as fabricated content designed to fool readers and subsequently made viral through the Internet to large groups of people who further disseminate it.

fake news & social media

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable information sharing among their users, and many of these platforms present ‘news’ items, ads or ‘sponsored content’ in a manner that makes it difficult to distinguish real news sources from spoofed sites, or hoax sites. Most social media platform ad space is sold through brokers, meaning the platform often has no idea what is being advertised on their site. These characteristics make social media platforms an ideal place for fake news to flourish.

How do I spot fake news?

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable information sharing among their users, and many of these platforms present ‘news’ items, ads or ‘sponsored content’ in a manner that makes it difficult to distinguish real news sources from spoofed sites, or hoax sites. Most social media platform ad space is sold through brokers, meaning the platform often has no idea what is being advertised on their site. These characteristics make social media platforms an ideal place for fake news to flourish.

Use the five W's

Who Wrote it?

Check for the author’s name. Is their name listed or is it missing? Most authors will attach their byline to articles and opinion pieces they have written.

Are they qualified?

If the author’s name is listed, find out who the person is and what their credentials are. Do a search on the author in order to find out their occupation and any other articles they have written.


Is the author an expert in their field? Does the author work for a reputable organization or university? Are the articles well-researched and cited?

Is the Website valid?

On the top or bottom of the website there should be a link to a page called “About Us.” This section outlines the mission of the organization and how to get in touch in touch with them.


Does this organization have an established team of journalists or writers or show who their staff is? Or do they encourage and post articles written by members of the general public?


Reading about the host of and contributors to the website will help you determine whether it is a trustworthy source of information.

Is the article biased?

News articles should strive for neutrality in tone with the goal of providing you with facts from various viewpoints regarding the topic. If the article showcases only one side of the argument, readers should keep in mind that they are not seeing the full story and the article may contain bias or personal opinions.

Check for sources cited in the article that support the claims in the story. Search for these sources online. Are they reliable and established sources? Do they support the claims being made? Are direct quotes used correctly or referenced out of context?

is the article consistent?

Does the headline match the content of the article? The purpose of a headline is to inform you of what the entire article is about; however, it can also be used to persuade you to believe something or entice you to click through. Authors may falsify their headlines in order to entice readers to click through and read the full article or to simply believe the claim without reading the article in its entirety.

In addition to the headline, check for any spelling or grammatical errors in the text. Well-researched articles are typically read and re-read before posting.

Do not forward, share or repost articles based simply on the headline. Always read the article and check its validity first.

check the web address (url)

Typing in the wrong web address will direct you to a web-page that you were not intending to visit. Be careful, as many websites are registered with common misspellings or with an alternate domain, for example .org instead of .gov,  and may look official or valid. A professional looking website can still post fake news.

 With few exceptions, web addresses and domains can be purchased or registered by anyone. This makes it easier to create imitation websites that look legitimate.

If you are unsure of a website use a search engine, such as Google, to help you.

Where did I find this article?

Social Media websites like Facebook and Instagram, are NOT news organizations. These are websites are for people to create and/or share content. Monitoring of fake news is virtually non-existent on social media websites and blogs. They use algorithms to curate content that would be of interest to you.


Additionally, videos and photos may have been altered and edited. Photo and video manipulation allows people to create life-like images and videos, so fake news stories, photos and videos can be manipulated to seem legitimate.

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. – TedEd

what type of website is it?

Websites can be created and maintained by individuals, organizations, groups and corporations. Blogs are usually maintained by individuals or small groups and are personal in opinion and are usually written informally. Websites and blogs may use sensational headlines to entice you to click through. Individuals can generate advertising revenue from page views. Articles may be written from certain perspective and designed to appeal to  specific audiences. Be cautious of websites that use strong language to generate a click through or reaction.


Newspapers, journals, and network and cable news networks hire reporters and journalists to gather information and report the on news. These organizations have strict policies and journalistic standards.

remember:

Anyone can create a blog or website.

verify

Can you find the same information on at least 3 different reputable news sites? Or only other blogs and personally maintained websites?

Read Carefully

News networks, journals, and newspapers may also publish opinion pieces or discussions with individuals offering different viewpoints on current topics, these will be clearly marked as being being opinion, so read subtitles and bylines carefully.

remember to

Objectively read articles that use headlines designed to get you to click through or react emotionally.

When was this article published?

Out-of-date articles may not contain up-to-date facts and might have broken links. Out-of-date articles may contain information that has been disproven or debunked.

Is the date really important?

Yes, the date of the article will indicate when it was originally published. If the article is out-of-date is it related to a current event or is there another reason for it to be recirculated?

Articles, alerts and stories that are out-of-date or have been disproven circulate widely on social media as they are not read or verified before being shared. 

Use a search engine, such as Google, to see if other websites are reporting on the same story. 

Was the article updated or retracted?

Articles may be updated or retracted as more information is discovered. Reputable websites will indicate at either the beginning or the end of the article that it has been altered, by who, and when. Additionally, news organizations may link to or update older articles if they relate to a current event. 

As you read the article ask yourself what is the authors purpose and who benefits from this information?

is the article informative?

What information is the author trying to convey? Think critically about the information presented. Is this author an expert in the subject? Can you verify the author’s facts or claims? Have the author provided a worked cited or list of sources? Are these sources credible? Has the author provided links to resources that will provide additional information? Are the provided links broken? What type of websites do the links lead to – educational, blogs, corporations? 

is the article selling something?

Is the author trying to get you to buy or try something? Sometimes advertisers will style their marketing as a news article to give the appearance of credibility to their claims. These articles may be marked as paid, ad, or sponsored. 

is the article entertaining?

Is the article from the Onion or a similar site? Authors may create articles or political cartoons that use satire, exaggeration, or irony to express their views or opinions on current affairs. These articles and cartoons are often humorous and may  reflect the views of the creator or the general public and are not considered fake news.

is the article persuasive?

It is common for an author to try to persuade their audience to believe one thing or another. One of the keys to writing a good article is knowing your audience. Are you an objective reader who can tell when you are being persuaded on a topic? Can you the author’s point of view? Is the author neutral and objective, offering both sides of the topic or are they biased and only present one point of view? Can you determine why the author has that point of view, and why they might want you to persuade you? Are there reasons or current events happening that may compel the author to share accurate information or misinformation? 

How to spot fake news

This page has been adapted from Toronto Public Library.