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 that, Facebook and Google wouldn’t have to cut fake news sites out of their ad algorithms, and people wouldn’t breathlessly share stories claiming Donald Trump is a secret lizard or Hillary Clinton is an android in a pantsuit. .

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

NOTE: While putting this together, we sought input from two communications experts: Dr. Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts whose dynamic list of dodgy news sites has gone viral, and Alexios Mantzarlis, the head of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

Know the Different Types of Misleading and False News First

1. Fake news

These are the easiest to debunk and often come from well-known fake sites designed to look like real news outlets. They may contain misleading photos and headlines that appear at first glance as if they could be 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, this can be an interpretation of a real news event where the facts are manipulated to fit into an agenda. 4. Clickbait The shocking or teasing headlines of these stories tempt you to click for more information – which may or may not live up to what was promised. 5. Satire This one is difficult because satire doesn’t pretend to be real and serves as commentary or entertainment. But if people are unfamiliar with a satire site, they can share the news as if it were legit.

Second, improve your fact-checking skills

Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact-checkers for a living. He says it’s important to have a “healthy amount of skepticism” and think, really think, before sharing a piece of news. “If we were a little slower in sharing and retweeting content purely based on the headline, we would be taking a good step in the fight against flashhoods,” 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] only applies to older people,” she told CNN. “I think even pre-school education should be a lesson about communication, media and the Internet. Growing up with the internet does not necessarily mean that you are handy with the internet.”

For starters, here are 10 questions to ask if something looks fake:

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

Mantzarlis says one of the biggest reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is that people get sucked in by a headline and don’t bother to click through.

This week, several dubious organizations spread a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. “Pepsi STOCK plummets after CEO Trump tells supporters to ‘take their business elsewhere,’” trumpeted one such headline.

However, the articles themselves don’t contain that quote or evidence that Pepsi’s stock saw a significant drop (it didn’t). Nooyi did make recorded comments about Trump’s election, but was never quoted as telling his supporters to “take their business elsewhere”.

Sometimes legitimate news stories can be twisted and brought back to life years later to create a false amalgamation of events. Mantzarlis recalls an inaccurate story that actually quoted a legitimate news story from CNNMoney.

A blog called Viral Liberty recently reported that Ford had moved production of some of their trucks from Mexico to Ohio because of Donald Trump’s election win. The story quickly caught fire online — after all, it seemed like a big win for the domestic auto industry.

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

Photos and videos can also be taken out of context to support a false claim. In April, liberal site Occupy Democrats posted a video in which a young woman was allegedly removed from a bathroom by police for not looking feminine enough. This was during the height of the controversy over the HB2 “bathroom bill”, and the article clearly linked the two. “IT BEGINS”, read the headline.

However, there was no date on the video or evidence that it was shot in North Carolina where the “bathroom bill” was supposed to be.

According to Snopes, the same video was even published on a Facebook page in 2015, meaning it predated the HB2 controversy.

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

One such article claims that Coca-Cola recalled the Dasani water bottles after a “clear parasite” was found in the water. There was even an accompanying gross photo that allegedly showed the parasite, although a simple Googling reveals it’s most likely a photo of a young eel.

Regardless, the article contained no statement or claim from any company. This was obviously going to be a big story. Dasani or any number of consumer advocacy groups would publish statements or press releases about this, right? There are none to be found – because the story is 100% fake.

other 98%

A favorite meme of liberal Facebook groups includes a fake quote from Donald Trump allegedly from a 1998 People magazine interview:

“If I ran, I’d run a Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe everything on Fox News. I could lie and they would still eat it. I bet my grades would be great.”

This one is easy to debunk if you even think about it: has extensive archives and this quote is nowhere to be found.

During this election season, Pope Francis has been roped into three super-viral and completely false stories. According to various (fake) websites, the Pope approved three US presidential candidates: first, Bernie Sanders, as “reported” by National Report and Then Donald Trump, as “reported” by fake news site WTOE 5 News. Finally, another fake news site reported that he had supported Hillary Clinton!

In all these cases, the subsequent reports all reverted to the false. It’s always good to trace a story back to its original source, and if you find yourself in a loop — or if they all go back to the same dubious site — you have reason to doubt.

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Both Zimdars and Mantzarlis say bias is a major reason fake news spreads the way it does. Some of that is built into Facebook’s algorithm – the more you like or interact with a particular interest, the more Facebook shows you related to that interest.

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

“We’re looking for information that already fits our established beliefs,” Zimdars says. “If we come into contact with information that we do not agree with, it can still confirm us because we will try to find errors.”

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

Did you know that there is actually an international fact-checking network (which Mantzarlis leads)? And that it has a code of principles? The code includes the ideals of impartiality and transparency. Sites like, Snopes, and Politifact adhere to this code, so when you see an exposure there, you know you’re getting the real deal. View the full list here.

This is where things can get tricky. There is clearly a big difference between “misleading” news, which is mostly based on fact, and “fake” news, which is just fiction disguised as fact. Zimdars’ now-famous list includes both kinds, as well as satire and sites that take advantage of clickbait-type headlines. Snopes also keeps a list.

While Zimdars is happy that her list has gotten so much attention, she also cautions that writing some sites off as “fake” completely isn’t right. “I want to make sure that this list doesn’t disservice the ultimate goal,” she says. “It’s interesting that some headlines [about my list] are as hyperbolic as the ones I analyze.”

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