How to Spot a Fake News Story on the Internet
A few recent incidents, and an old one of our own creation, has prompted us to offer a comprehensive guide on how to separate the real from the fake on the Interwebs.
A lot of people seem to have trouble separating truth from satire these days, so let's jump right into it.
Part 1: What is Satire?
Satire, according to Wikipedia, "is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society."
Part 2: Popular Sites That Do Satire and Fake News
We ran a video from The Onion, probably the best and best-known satire site, a few weeks ago that blew up on our Facebook page. Unfortunately, a ton of people didn't know about The Onion and actually began debating the virtues of Ohio's new "Humane Head Ripping Off" style of capital punishment, another story we expected no one to take seriously.
But we see this all the time. Friends will share outrageous stories on Facebook about politics, sports figures, internet memes, celebrity death hoaxes, etc. I'm rarely fooled by these, although the particularly well-executed Wayne Knight (Newman from 'Seinfeld') death hoax did get by me for a few minutes. Some of these sites are great at what they do (The Onion) and are very funny, others are there purely for the purpose of trolling the public with social media "click-bait" in an unsatisfying way. For future reference, here is a list of sites that we see fake news stories shared from regularly:
- The Onion -- Well-written, funny and entertaining social and political satire
- Huzlers -- A more blatant, less entertaining troll site which often posts stories about ironic twists of fate for people who have become internet memes
- Empire Sports -- A sports based site that trolls readers with stories about athletes coming out of the closet and death hoaxes
- The Daily Currant -- A cheap knockoff of The Onion
- The News Nerd
- National Report
Part 3: How Do I Know if What I'm Reading is True?
- Every real news story will be linked to a credible source. This is a standard practice in internet journalism. The only time a real story will not be linked to a source is if the site itself is the source has information they learned exclusively (they would brag about and point to this in the story). You can usually click linked words like "According to _______" or "[Source: _____]" in the story and follow the story to its source if it seems fake.
- If it comes from a site you never heard of, go to their home page and check out the believability of the other stories. Some sites do mix both real and fake news, so you'll have to be careful in trusting sites you don't know.
- Snopes.com is a site that is on the Internet for the sole purpose of validating or invalidating unbelievable web stories, videos, urban legends, etc.
- Read the article. If you're one of those people that only reads headlines on Facebook, you're going to end up talking about a lot of BS like it's fact. To separate the real from the fake, unfortunately, you're going to have to read a couple of sentences from time to time.
There you have it, kids. Now get out there and enjoy them internets responsibly!