Nearly a quarter of Americans shared a false political story on social media in 2016. Of those who shared, 16% didn’t know the articles were fake, according to a Pew Research Center study.
You, or someone you know, may have shared, commented or reacted to a fake article whether you knew it or not.
Do any of these headlines look familiar?
- “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” – received 960,000 engagements (shares, comments and reactions) on Facebook, according to BuzzFeed.
- “Obama Signs Executive Order Declaring Investigation Into Election Results; Revote Planned for Dec. 19th” – received almost 250,000 shares on Facebook, according to The Washington Post.
- “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse” – shared more than 46,000 times on social media, The New York Times reported.
- “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS. . . Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News” – received 789,000 engagements on Facebook, according to BuzzFeed.
As election coverage heated up, so did fake news.
Fake election stories received more engagements on Facebook during the last three months of the 2016 presidential cycle than the top three legitimate election stories when measured by shares, comments and reactions on Facebook, a BuzzFeed analysis found.
Read More: Are You Getting Duped by Fake News?
6 Tips to Spot Fake News
How do you know if what you’re reading was not published by a legitimate news source? It helps to spot the warning signs.
1. Imitation URLs mimic mainstream media websites by including similar logos and page layouts. Fake websites may have a .de or .co domain at the end of a .com URL. Examples include CNN.com.de, CBSnews.com.co and ABCnews.com.co. Even the entertainment site TMZ.com has imitators branded as TMZ World News and TMZ Hip Hop.
2. Clickbait words or phrases should be a red flag. Headlines that use language such as “You Won’t Believe This,” “This is Not a Joke” and “Wow” are designed to grab attention without providing context to the article. They’re often misleading and may contain eye-catching photos.
3. Extremely negative headlines are more likely to entice a reader to click. Consider the top-performing false political stories in 2016; almost all of the articles were negative and had headlines written to elicit an emotional response.
4. Repeat authors on homepages or stories published without an author’s byline are suspect. Fake websites have also published articles under famous bylines, such as that of “Animal Farm” author George Orwell, who died in 1950.
5. Check the quotes within the story. Can you find the person quoted through a Google search? If not, you should be suspicious. Also, if well-known public figures like President Obama or President Trump are quoted, chances are those same comments would have appeared in numerous other publications. In some cases, transcripts may be available online to review.
6. Reader comments may accuse the author of writing fake news and include information to support that claim. However, anyone can make an accusation, so it’s important to try to verify comments in the same way you would attempt to confirm statements in an article.
If you want to combat the spread of fake news, fact-check what you’re reading and make sure that if you share a fake article your connections on social media know it’s not real. There are a variety of online resources that can help you determine fact from fiction, including:
- FactCheck.org monitors statements by major political players and seeks “to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
- PolitiFact.com is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times who research claims by elected officials, candidates, political activists and others.
- Snopes.com is one of the largest fact-checking websites and aims to debunk everything from fake political stories to urban legends and rumors.
- International Fact-Checking Network provides resources, articles and online courses related to trends and best practices in fact-checking. The network is hosted by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism and owner of the Tampa Bay Times.