Want to Share the Article You're Reading? Check These Five Indicators to Make Sure It Isn't Fake News

It is easier to spot stories designed to manipulate the reader when you know the signs

Want to Share the Article You're Reading? Check These Five Indicators to Make Sure It Isn't Fake News
Image: Pixabay
December 05, 2016

A North Carolina man entered a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant armed with a rifle on Sunday and fired, claiming to be "self-investigating" an online conspiracy theory with no evidence to support it.

Though no injuries were reported, it is likely that the situation could have been avoided if the man knew how to identify fake news stories and differentiate them from legitimate news.

As ConsumerAffairsreports, fake news has one goal and one goal only: to make readers click on links.

"We are seeing a return to how political coverage was in the 1800s – almost all of it was partisan," said Fred Blevens, a communications professor at Florida International University. "Our founding fathers made sure that all political speech was protected – even the erroneous and misleading. In the context of politics, you can say just about anything and you don't have to back it up."

Fortunately, says Blevens, consumers are not powerless. There are several things consumers can do to identify fake news stories. One is to consult several different sources for news and information rather than depending on one source alone.

There are also several indicators in the stories themselves that show their true nature. Here are five giveaways that the story you're reading is fake news:

"You won't believe" are the first words in the headline.

Whenever a headline claims "you won't believe" or contains words such as "shocking," the writer is employing a technique known as "clickbait." The intention is to make the reader so curious that he or she will open and read the article.

The story does not need much substantial content in itself. The headline has done its job if the reader opens the story, as the site publishing the story gets advertising revenue when the link is clicked.

The story confirms one of the cherished beliefs or fears of the reader.

It is not difficult to figure out a person's political identity if you know how to use certain sophisticated internet tools, such as algorithms. In order to get as many clicks as possible, fake news purveyors show each reader stories about outrages supposedly committed by a well-known member of the opposing party.

Scary fake news is also effective when it comes to racking up clicks. If you see a headline about someone predicting the end of the world, it is more than a little likely that the claims will not hold up to scrutiny.

A celebrity or famous politician is the subject.

Fake news writers often capitalize on people's curiosity by writing about celebrities and politicians. There have been instances of headlines that purposely mislead readers by suggesting that one or another well-known public figure has died when, in reality, the person is alive and well.

No credible sources are cited.

This may be the biggest red flag of them all. Legitimate news stories are always based on information provided by one or more credible sources. The article should quote a person who has some amount of authority stating that something is, or is not, true and also offer a fact to back up the claim.

In contrast, fake news frequently does not cite sources; instead, it simply states an opinion. In addition, it is often being reported by only one outlet, a sign that the story has been fabricated solely for the purpose of getting clicks.

One of your friends or family members emailed the story to you.

One way in which fake news stories go viral is through an email chain from someone you know, messages containing a link to a story that "you've got to read."

Most of the time, the sender has been taken in by the story because it seems to confirm something they already believe to be true.

Finally, if you're not sure whether or not an article is trustworthy, you can go to sites such as Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, and Google to check the facts.