Photo Credit: Wikimedia/StephaneTougard
If you suspect that a story is fake, you can take the following steps to check it out.
Make sure the article was published by a reputable news outlet. If you do not recognize the news organization as a trusted source, dig a little deeper. Check the URL of the site to make sure it doesn’t have any odd letters or symbols. Check the “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages on the outlet’s website. These pages should tell you about the company that runs the site, the people who work for the organization and the mission of the organization. News outlets want people to be able to get in touch to provide feedback and tips for stories. If there is no contact information listed on the site, that is a red flag.
Check other trusted news outlets to see if they are reporting a similar story. Sometimes a story may be overlooked by mainstream news outlets due to media bias, or one outlet may publish an exclusive first report on a story. However, in most cases, a story will be covered by multiple outlets. If no other outlets are writing about this story, beware. Also question it if the story you read does not seem to line up with the coverage from other news outlets.
Check out the author. Has this person published other articles on this topic? Does this person have a history of writing satire or reporting hoaxes? If this is a freelance reporter, where else has his or her work been published? Try to establish whether this person is real and has a history of credible work.
Check the date and time stamp of publication. Sometimes old stories will resurface and circulate as though the events just happened. In one case reported by the Cleveland Scene, a real news station accidentally tweeted an old story about an NFL player receiving a DUI, setting off a firestorm. While the station apologized and explained the technical glitch behind the tweet, there are people who purposely promote old stories without context or as though they have just happened.
Look at the links and sources used in the article. Not only should an article contain links or sources to support claims, but those sources must be trustworthy. If the article leans heavily on a study, make sure the study exists and was conducted by an independent, reputable organization, such as a university. If the study was conducted by a lobbying or trade organization that represents a particular interest, tread with caution.
Check Out These Additional Resources for More Tips:
NPR’s Guide to Self-Check the News
The News Literacy Project’s 10 Questions for Fake News Detection
Washington Post’s Fact-Checker Guide