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

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

Whether it's "insidious confusion," quackery, disinformation, spin, misinformation, or just a misunderstanding, there is a lot of false information out there.

Here are some strategies for identifying it. 

How to spot fake news in eight simple steps

How to spot fake new infographic. Full text is below, under the heading: How to spot fake news in eight simple steps.

How to spot fake news in eight simple steps (text version)

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. 

Watch a video -- or a try a quiz

This video (4:35) features University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin D. West sharing three quick tips for spotting lies and misinformation. (From Grist, a nonprofit independent media organisation focussing on climate solutions, March 30 2021.)

Think you can tell a legitimate story from a fake one just from the headline? 

Try a quiz:

Tips for interpreting breaking news

Breaking news consumer's handbook infographic. For full text see the description below.


"'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 (2013).

In October 2023, the producers also published the Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Israel and Gaza Edition -- you can listen, read the transcript, or download the one-page handout.

Breaking News Consumer's Handbook description (text version)

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

Academic sources and strategies

For general strategies for evaluating sources, see our Evaluating resources guide, or use Library Search for more in-depth or course- and discipline-specific articles, books, etc. (try terms like "fake news" or "evaluating").

You can also take a for-credit course, taught by Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West at the University of Washington, "because we are confident that together all of us can make better collective decisions if we know how to evaluate the information that comes our way." (From their FAQs.)

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. 

Tools and strategies from journalists 

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

The BBC (in the United Kingdom) covers current misinformation and false claims in international news in their weekly Reality Check feature. 

The BBC has also created a suite of resources and tools, Beyond Fake News, which includes tips for verifying information, fighting fake news, and stopping the spread of misinformation.  

Attribution: About the How to Spot Fake News infographic

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created this infographic (based on’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’s video based on the article."