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How to spot fake news: Identifying propaganda, satire, and false information

 

How to spot fake news: consider the source, read beyond, check the author, supporting sources?, check the date, is it a joke?, check your biases, ask the experts.

How to spot fake news in eight simple steps

Consider the source

Click away from the story to learn more about the website, including its stated mission and contact information. For a picture, try a reverse image search to find out where it was originally used, and whether it has been altered.

Read beyond

Beware of outrageous headlines, statements in ALL CAPS, and sensational images designed to get clicks. Read the full story and then investigate further.

Check the author

Do a quick search on the author to find out if they are credible (or even a real person). What is the person's background? What qualifications do they have, and how are they related to the topic they are writing about?

Supporting sources?

Check to make sure the links support the story -- and are credible.

Check the date

Is this an old story? 

Is it a joke?

If the image looks unbelievable or the news sounds too outrageous, it may be satire. Research the site and the author to check.

Check your biases

Consider whether your own beliefs might affect your judgement. 

Ask the experts

Ask a librarian, or visit a fact-checking site. 

Try a quiz

Think you can tell a legitimate story from a fake one just from the headline? Try one of these quizzes:

Can you tell real news from fake news?
A quiz from the Texas Tribune newspaper, from December 2016. Includes links to the original sources or fact-checking sites, depending on the answer. 

Quiz: Can you spot the fake stories?
Created by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), November 2016.

Can you pick the fake news headline? 
From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), November 2016

Tips for interpreting breaking news

Breaking news: Google bans cat pics on the internet! Apocalypse Meow! Two cats, one facing the camera, mouth open in surprise.

"'Whatever you might hear in the first couple of hours after a major news event, you should probably take it all with a grain of salt,' says Andy Carvin, senior strategist on NPR's [National Public Radio's] Digital Desk." WNYC's On the Media podcast producers have created the Breaking News Consumer's Handbook, a nine-point checklist for evaluating the first reports of major events.

1) In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong. 2) Don't trust anonymous sources. 3) Don't trust stories that cite another news outlet. 4) There's almost never a second shooter. 5) Pay attention to the language the media uses. 6) Look for news outlets close to the incident. 7) Compare multiple sources. 8) Big news brings out the fakers. And photoshoppers. 9) Beware reflexive retweeting. Some of this is on you.

Breaking News Consumer's Handbook description:

On the media:

  1. In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.
  2. Don't trust anonymous sources.
  3. Don't trust stories that cite another new outlet as the source of the information.
  4. There's almost never a second shooter.
  5. Pay attention to the language the media uses.
    1. "We are getting reports"... could mean anything.
    2. "We are seeking confirmation"... means they don't have it.
    3. "[News outlet] has learned"... means it has a scoop or is going out on a limb.
  6. Look for news outlets close to the incident.
  7. Compare multiple sources.
  8. Big news brings out the fakers.  And photoshoppers.
  9. Beware reflexive retweeting.  Some of this is on you.

Further resources

For further tips, see our Finding and evaluating resources guide, or use Library Search for course- and discipline-specific information (try terms like "fake news" or "evaluating") . 

Our Search tips for Google and Google Scholar page includes more advanced tools you can use to trace the origins of false stories -- as well as images.   

For strategies for researching academic topics,  including evaluating resources in the various disciplines, check the subject-based research guides created by SFU subject specialist librarians. 

See also the Canadian Association of JournalistsPrinciples for Ethical Journalism document. 

More about the How to Spot Fake News infographic

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created this infographic (based on FactCheck.org’s 2016 article How to Spot Fake News). "Download, print, translate, and share – at home, at your library, in your local community, and in social media networks. The more we crowdsource our wisdom, the wiser the world becomes. You can also check out FactCheck.org’s video based on the article."