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Evaluating news sites: "Real" vs "fake"

News across the spectrum

Can I trust this source?

When you read a news item, consider the following questions:

  • Who is the author? What are his or her credentials? Is the author a journalist or an expert?
  • Does this news item show explicit bias toward a particular viewpoint?
  • Does the author use incendiary or provocative language?
  • What is the mission of the website or newspaper that published this news item? Read the About Us or About This Site link on the publishing site. Look for statements like "objectively presents the news," "interprets the news," "promotes a liberal viewpoint" or "supports conservative principles." If there is no information about the publisher, or no mission statement, that should be a red flag.
  • Can you find this news story in multiple places? "Real" news will be reported by a number of news sources, so you will be able to verify the truth behind the reporting.

Other warning signs to watch out for:

  • Headlines written in all caps
  • Headlines that use inflammatory language
  • Headlines that are written for emotional impact
  • Spelling or grammatical errors
  • Sites that claim they are THE BEST! or #1! in their field. Chances are they're not.
  • Domain names that end in lo or .co. Recently there have been fake sites that mimic authoritative sites using a similar address but with extra letters at the end of the url.

Finally, beware of sites that mix accurate news reporting with fake news. Some questionable websites post stories from reliable news feeds like Reuters and AP next to highly biased articles. Be sure to look for an author or original source for each individual article rather than judging the site as a whole.

Can you tell real news from fake news?

Play Factitious - a game where the player tries to determine what's real.

Go to Spot the Troll and test your social media skills.

A slideshow demonstrating how quickly untrue stories
can spread on social media.
Created by Tripp Robbins using reporting from the New York Times

What is click-bait?

Many of the "news" items that come across your social media feed are there to sell advertising. More "clicks" means more eyeballs on a page, which means that site can make more money from advertisers who place ads on that site. Don't feed the clickbait monster! Yes we all love cuddly cats and bears; we want to see what happened to those childhood stars once they grew up; we are certain we will be outraged by the next "You Won't Believe This!" story. But remember: every time you click that "go to the next page"  link, you are telling the designers of that website that their sneaky tactics are working, and you are making more money for that website. 

And don't share the link! It just puts more money in the website owner's pocket.

For more information, read this (click the link - really!):