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How to outsmart fake news in your Facebook feed


Just because it’s on the internet don’t make it true. It sounds so simple, but if everyone knew this, Facebook and Google wouldn’t have to pull fake news sites out of their ad algorithms and people wouldn’t breathlessly share stories that claim Donald Trump is a secret lizard or that Hillary Clinton is an android. in a pantsuit.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fake news is actually very easy to spot – if you know how. Consider this your Beginner’s Guide to New Media.

NOTE: In preparing these elements, we sought the advice of two communication experts: Dr. Melissa Zimdarsassociate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts whose dynamics list of unreliable news sites went viral, and Alexios Manzarlisthe leader of International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

First, know the different types of misleading and fake news

1. Fake news

  • These are the easiest to debunk and often come from known fictional sites that are designed to look like real media. They may include misleading photographs and titles that, at first glance, appear to be real.
  • 2. Misleading News

  • These are the hardest to demystify, as 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 an actual current event where facts are manipulated to fit an agenda.
  • 4. Clickbait

  • The shocking or teasing titles of these stories keep you clicking for more information – which may or may not live up to what was promised.
  • 5. Satire

  • This one is difficult, as the satire does not pretend to be real and is for commentary or entertainment purposes. But if people aren’t familiar with a satirical site, they can share the news as if it were legitimate.
  • Second, hone your fact-checking skills

  • Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact checkers for a living. He says it’s important to have “a healthy dose of skepticism” and to think, really think, before sharing any news.
  • “If we were a little slower in sharing and retweeting title-only content, we would be a good way to fight flasehoods,” 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 that [thinking] only applies to the elderly,” she told CNN. “I think even early education should teach about communication, media and the internet. Growing up with the internet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re internet savvy.
  • To get started, here are 10 questions you should ask if something seems wrong:

    Zimdars says sites with strange suffixes like “.co” or “.su”, or that are hosted by third-party platforms like WordPress should raise a red flag. Some bogus sites, like National Report, have legitimate or even overly general names that can easily fool people on social sites. For example, several false reports from went viral before being debunked, including an article from June claiming that President Obama had signed an order banning the sale of assault weapons.

    Mantzarlis says one of the main reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is because people get sucked into a headline and no need to click on it.

    Just this week, several dubious organizations circulated a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. “Pepsi STOCK plummets after CEO tells Trump supporters to ‘take their business elsewhere,'” one headline trumpeted.

    However, the articles themselves did not contain this quote or evidence that Pepsi shares had fallen significantly (it did not). Nooyi made recorded comments about Trump’s election but was never quoted telling his supporters to “take their business elsewhere.”

    Occasionally legitimate news stories can be twisted and resurrected years after the fact to create a false amalgamation of events. Mantzarlis recalls an erroneous story that actually quoted legitimate CNNMoney news.

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

    Turns out Ford moved some manufacturing from Mexico to Ohio – in 2015. It had nothing to do with the election results.

    Photos and videos can also be taken out of context to support a misrepresentation. In April, the liberal site Occupy Democrats published a video allegedly showing a young woman being pulled from a bathroom by police for not looking feminine enough. This was at the height of the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy, and the article clearly connected the two. “IT BEGINS,” reads the title.

    However, there was no date on the video or any evidence that it was filmed in North Carolina, where the “toilet bill” was to pass.

    In fact, according to Snopes, the same video was posted on a Facebook page in 2015, which means it predates the HB2 controversy.

    It’s not just political news that can be wrong. Now8News is one of the most infamous fake but real looking sites specializing in the kind of weird news that often goes viral.

    One such article claims that Coca-Cola recalled bottles of Dasani water after a “clear parasite” was found in the water. There was even a disgusting picture that allegedly showed the parasite, although some basic google searches reveal it’s most likely a picture of a young eel.

    Anyway, the article had no statement or claim of any company. It would clearly be a great story. Dasani or a number of consumer groups would issue statements or press releases about this, right? There are none to be found – because the story is 100% false.

    Other 98%

    A favorite meme in liberal Facebook groups features a fake quote from Donald Trump allegedly taken from a People Magazine interview in 1998:

    “If I had to run, I would run as a Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they would still eat it. I bet my numbers would be great.

    This one is easily debunked if you take even a moment to think about it: has an extensive archive, and this the quote is not found in them.

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

    In all these cases, the subsequent reports all amounted to fakes. It’s always good to trace a story back to the original sourceand if you end up in a loop – or if they all lead you back to the same dodgy site – you have reason to doubt.

    How to outsmart fake news in your Facebook feed

    BIJOU SAMAD/AFP/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    The Zimdars and the Mantzarlis say confirmation bias is a big reason fake news spreads like this. Some of this is built into Facebook’s algorithm – the more you like or interact with a certain interest, the more Facebook will show 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 proof.

    “We look for information that already matches our established beliefs,” says Zimdars. “If we come into contact with information that we don’t agree with, it can still reaffirm us because we will try to find fault.”

    So if you find a scandalous article that seems “too good to be true”, beware: it might be.

    Did you know that there is actually an international fact-checking network (run by Mantzarlis)? And that he has a code of principles? The code includes the ideals of impartiality and transparency, among others. Sites like, Snopes and Politifact abide by this code, so if you see any debunking in it, you know you get the real deal. See the whole list here.

    It’s here that things can get complicated. There is obviously a big difference between “misleading” news, which is usually based on fact, and “fake” news, which is just fiction disguised as fact. The now famous list of Zimdars covers both types, as well as satire and sites that capitalize on clickbait-like titles. Snopes also maintains a list.

    While Zimdars is happy that her listing has garnered so much attention, she also cautions that it’s not accurate to completely remove some of the sites as “fake.” “I want to make sure that this list doesn’t greatly detract from the ultimate goal,” she says. “It is interesting that some of the titles [about my list] are just as hyperbolic as those I am analyzing.

    Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.