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10 Tips to Avoid (Spreading) Fake News During a Crisis

Ben Stegner Updated 17-04-2020

Falsehood spreads so quickly through social media and the internet at large that avoiding it can seem impossible. How can you distinguish truth from fiction?

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Let’s look at how to avoid fake news, as well as how you can avoid spreading fake news yourself. With some critical thinking and resources, you can help keep this problem from getting worse.

How to Spot and Avoid Fake News

First, let’s look at some ways to steer clear of fake news if you suspect you’re reading a false story.

1. Examine the Source

Fake News Website

Anyone can publish an article online, but that doesn’t make it true. To determine if something is true, you should start by looking at the website it was published on.

Is the website trustworthy? If it ends in a weird domain like “.news.co,” that’s questionable. You should read the About Us page to learn more about the website’s mission and credibility. Make sure that you aren’t mistaking content on a satire site Faux News: 10 Best Websites for Fake News & Satire Read More as fact.

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After examining the website, look at the author’s information. Are they a well-known and trusted figure in journalism? Do they have links to their personal website or social media pages, and are they verified on those platforms if so? You shouldn’t take opinions from a no-name commentator very seriously.

2. Consider the Article’s Quality

Reputable news sources won’t publish articles that are full of spelling or grammatical mistakes. If you notice any typos or other blatant errors, you’re probably reading a website with low credibility. The same goes for sensationalism, such as overuse of punctuation or dramatic language.

You should also check the date on the story. There’s a chance that a publisher could recycle an old story with a few altered details and pretend it’s fresh.

3. Trace the Information to the Source

Articles that make serious claims should be able to back them up. If the piece contains no quotes or links to sources, that’s a red flag. An author who quickly wrote up an inaccurate story likely didn’t bother to do proper research.

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If there are sources given, examine them. Follow the chain of information to make sure this wasn’t all based on false premises, like an out-of-context quote.

You should also see if other reputable sources have spoken about the information. If nobody else backs up the claim, the chances are higher that it’s nonsense.

4. Use Fact-Checking Resources

factcheck org website

If you’re really not sure whether a story is fake or not, you can rely on resources who look into these stories all day. We’ve shown you the best fact-checking websites The 8 Best Fact-Checking Sites for Finding Unbiased Truth This is the age of misinformation and fake news. Here are the best unbiased fact-checking sites so that you can find the truth. Read More to help you verify whether online information is true.

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Of course, even fact-checkers aren’t always 100% accurate. So while they’re useful, it’s always best to confirm the truth for yourself if you can.

5. Beware of Fake Images and Videos

With today’s advanced image manipulation tools, it’s relatively trivial for someone to create a believable fake image or even a video. You should thus never believe a story based solely on a screenshot, image, or video clip.

To see if an image has been manipulated, you can use tools like FotoForensics. It’s also smart to run the image through a reverse image search The 10 Best Reverse Image Search Apps for iPhone and Android Reverse image search lets you learn more about any image. Here are the best image search apps and tools for Android and iPhone. Read More service so you can see if it’s been used elsewhere or altered.

Make sure you know about the risks of deepfakes Deepfakes Explained: The AI That's Making Fake Videos Too Convincing AI-generated fake videos completely undermine our understanding of world events. Here's how deepfakes might change everything. Read More too.

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How to Avoid Spreading Fake News

Next, we’ll look at a few tips to help you avoid spreading fake news yourself, especially on social media.

6. Don’t Share Without Thinking

Facebook Share Story

It’s all too easy to click “Share,” “retweet,” or “forward” on stories without looking into them properly. Many people do this after reading just the headline and don’t even consider what’s actually in the article.

Resist the temptation to instantly share stories with your friends, especially if they seem sensational. People who trust you may see what you shared and take it as truth without looking at it themselves, which further contributes to the problem.

Finally, remember that “fake news” doesn’t just refer to made-up stories. Another form of fake news involves include putting a misleading spin on true information. You’ll often notice this when you compare facts in an article to a dramatic headline.

7. Include Verifiable Information When You Post

If you post an article or update related to a timely topic, you should include supporting information about the claim. Adding a link to a scientific journal, fact-checking page, or other trusted source will greatly add to the credibility of what you’ve said.

Additionally, having explicit details laid out gives others the chance to disprove them with facts themselves. Otherwise, a discussion on social media could devolve into a shouting match without any evidence, where nobody says anything of importance.

8. Contest Fake News When You See It

If you see someone share a story on social media that you know is false, don’t let it sit out and confuse others. You should comment on the post with a link to a trusted source that disproves the original article.

While not everyone who sees the post will bother to read your correction, its presence will hopefully at least give people pause before they take the original content at face value.

Depending on the service, you can also report false stories to the platform. For example, you can let Facebook know that an article is untrue by reporting it. Click on the three-dot Menu button at the top-right of a post on Facebook and choose Find Support or Report Post. After this, select False News as the reason and continue to submit your report.

Facebook Report Post

Facebook has started to mark stories as false after they’re verified by fact-checkers, so you may see a notice on such images when this happens.

9. Read Reputable Sources in the First Place

Fake news sometimes festers in the darker corners of the internet where there’s not as much accountability. To avoid exposing yourself to false stories as much as possible, you should stick to legitimate sites and reporters as much as you can.

Keep in mind, though, that just because a news company or brand is mainstream doesn’t mean that it’s trustworthy.

But once you’ve vetted some sources and feel you can reasonably trust them, you should get your news there instead of from social media. Consider using dedicated news apps 7 Top News Apps for Free: Google News, Flipboard, Feedly, and More We've rounded up the best free news apps for Android and iPhone to bring you the stories you care about and more. Read More to follow trusted sources.

10. Stay Calm During Developing Crises

A lot of fake news revolves around crisis situations, where a lot of information arrives at once. It’s difficult to separate truth from lies during these times, so you should be on your guard when breaking news comes onto the scene.

As a crisis develops, there’s a high likelihood that most sources don’t know what’s going on yet. To keep your attention and clicks coming, news sites will want to come up with something—even if it’s not accurate.

Keep an eye out for phrases like “we are getting reports” or “we are seeking confirmation.” Neither of these confirm that the source has any trustworthy information.

While it’s from a comedy movie, the below clip from Anchorman 2 illustrates how news outlets can spin a story way beyond its initial scope. Keep an eye out for these tactics in real-world scenarios.

Avoid Fake News: Think First!

We’ve looked at many ways to avoid fake news and keep yourself from spreading fake news on social media. In summary, you shouldn’t trust any sources without looking into them critically first, and never share content from a friend that you haven’t examined on your own.

It’s way too easy for false content to spread like crazy in today’s online environment. Everyone can do a little bit to keep fake news from propagating in their circles.

For more, you should know how to spot other common online fakes How to Spot 7 Online Fakes Used by Scammers You can't trust everything you see online. Here are seven commonly faked elements online and some advice for identifying them. Read More .

Related topics: Fake News, Google News, Politics, Scams.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. John Smith
    April 17, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    "10 Tips to Avoid (Spreading) Fake News During a Crisis"
    Recommends far left apologist discredited "factcheck . org" to check if the news are fake, links to the New York times, and recommends ratting out.

    LOL!

    Nice.
    Here how to avoid fake news.
    Stop reading/watching/listening to:
    CNN
    MSNBC
    NBC
    ABC
    CBS
    The New York Times
    The Washington Post
    The Atlantic
    Anything on medium
    BBC

    Take almost everything you read/watch/see on Fox News with a grain of salt, verify from another source.
    Best way to find out, rely on citizen journalism with video evidence attached if available. Or wait couple of days, you'd see almost all of those "news outlets" issuing a correction or update, but those usually are less popular than the original fake news.

    End of the story.

    • dragonmouth
      April 17, 2020 at 4:51 pm

      "Best way to find out, rely on citizen journalism with video evidence attached if available. "
      "Video evidence" can be, and very often is, biased by what the "citizen journalist" selectively records. Vital and pertinent facts can be omitted from a recording because they do not happen fit the "citizen journalist's" agenda. Professional journalists at least have a code of conduct that they pay lip service to. "Citizen journalists" have no such impediment and have absolutely no compunctions about grinding an ax or three.

      • Veritas
        May 14, 2020 at 1:32 pm

        "selectively records"..' or selectively edit

  2. Sidney Jones
    May 12, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Here's a few things to keep in mind: The managers of 'news' organizations have hijacked the term: 'media'. They would like you to believe that they *ARE* 'The Media'. Actually, there are many media (media is the plural of medium). Anything at all, that qualifies as being useful in assisting anybody in making a creative statement, functions as a medium. For example, water, ice, food, chalk, paint, light, photography, newspapers, books, films (movies), video, stage acting, street busking, etc., etc. But, those managers have a further secret - they are not in the news business - they are in the advertising business - they propagate commercials. In-between commercial advertisements they feature alleged 'news', especially appearances of exciting conflicts, because these topics help hold the viewer's attention on the TV, magazine, radio, etc. So, with that in mind you can see that those managers have very little motive to present 'the truth' in the form of news. Rather, they are keeping their own attention on the money they are paid by advertisers. All they need to do is hold your attention between commercial advertisements. Knowing this, why would you believe that any of their tales are necessarily reliable? Sure, reliable reporting helps maintain their image, but alas, that is secondary to the money. Of the techniques shared in the article, I have found the reverse image search to be the most useful. Good luck on your search for truth!

  3. John Baker
    May 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    It's been my experience that many of the people who are inclined to fall for these fake "news" stories are the sort who won't believe anything that doesn't have a strong right-wing slant. They see sites like Politifact and Snopes (or any other source that contradicts their preconceived notions, for that matter) as propaganda mills pushing a "leftist agenda" and no amount of evidence to the contrary will convince them otherwise.

    • Anonymous
      May 12, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      There ain't no such animal as really objective news reporting. Most, if not all, reporting is biased. First, there are the unintentional personal biases of the person doing the reporting, acquired during his/her formative years. Then there are the institutional biases of the organization for which the reporter is working. Then there are the intentional biases of the reporter's political/religious beliefs. Finally, the news is filtered through the economic, ethical and political biases of the reader.

      Let's face it, to most people "objective reporting" is the kind that agrees with their biases.

      • Kelsey Tidwell
        May 14, 2016 at 1:39 am

        I agree with fcd76218. That is exactly why it's best when making opinions about what high-profile persons are saying, listen to THEM say it. Don't give credence to the many many op-eds which seem to thrive on the sarcastic use of quotation marks in order to make whichever speaker is the target of the moment appear as ignorant and irrational as possible...while the commentator attempts to look vastly intelligent.

        To either political party, rest-assured that the other team is indeed nauseatingly childish in how they push their agendas. Doesn't matter which of the extremist sides of the aisle you sit on. Fanatics are every race, sex and philosophy, and the only ignorant people are the ones who think they're not fanatical in some sense.