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How to spot fake news – and stop it from spreading

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference, in San Francisco. In an interview Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, with “The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick, Zuckerberg said the idea that Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election is a “crazy idea.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference, in San Francisco. In an interview Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, with “The Facebook Effect” author David Kirkpatrick, Zuckerberg said the idea that Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election is a “crazy idea.” AP Photo

Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. Pope Francis did not endorse Trump for president. An FBI agent suspected of being involved in Hillary Clinton’s email leaks did not turn up dead in an apparent murder-suicide.

But if you had come across fake news sites preaching the opposite around the election, you might have believed them. Thousands did, and shared those stories all over social media.

Several legitimate news sites are looking for ways to stop that from happening. Politifact has announced an initiative to point out fake news quickly, Snopes has been pointing out fake rumors in news since its inception in the mid-90s and technologist Daniel Sieradski has even developed a plug-in for web browsers that will tell you when you’re clicking on a fake news site.

That plug-in, called the BS Detector, uses a list of known fake news sites to flag potentially false stories with a red banner reading, “This website is considered a questionable source,” according to BBC News. It has more than 25,000 downloads.

But since that won’t catch all the fake news, here are some tips from sites such as Snopes, Fact Check and NBC on spotting those stories yourself.

1) Look for weird URLs, such as ones that end in .lo or .co. Some fake news sites will use similar addresses of legitimate news sites and add a .co at the end to fool people, such as abcnews.com.co.

2) Look for the byline. Many fake news articles won’t contain an author’s name at all, while others make up fake names. Fact Check found one fake author named “Jimmy Rustling,” whose page claimed he was a doctor who won “fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes.” A quick Google search revealed none of that was true.

3) Read the “about” pages of the sites. If it doesn’t exist, it could be a sign of a fake or could contain clues that it’s not real. Conversely, some sites are satirical and will tell you in their about section if the news is false.

4) Look at other articles hosted on the site. Many times, the articles’ headlines are specifically designed to get you to click and share because they’re highly outrageous. If every article on the site is like that, it could be the sign of a fake news website.

5) Find the source. Sometimes even legitimate news sources will get caught up in a fake story that originates at a false source. Other times, fake news will cite a real source for a false story, and if you look at the original source you won’t be able to find anything on it. If you find what the original source is, you can more easily verify the authenticity yourself. This is also useful when some fake news sites drudge up stories that are years old and resolved to get a fresh sense of outrage.

6) Reverse Google search the image that appears with the article. If the story is centered around a certain image, you should be able to right-click on the image and select “search Google for image.” You’ll then see if the image actually has a different story behind it besides the one peddled by the fake news site.

7) Find out where the story allegedly occurred. While it’s by no means foolproof, many authors of fake stories will claim the false events took place in a country where news reports are difficult to verify. Some favorites, according to Snopes, are Russia and China.

8) Google it. Check other sources that you know are legitimate and have dedicated themselves to debunking fake news. In addition, reading a variety of news sources in general.

Other indicators sometimes include headlines in all caps or poor website design, but that’s not limited to false news and is not a sign in and of itself.

Once you do find out news is false, the best way to keep it from spreading is to report it to social media. That’s particularly important on Facebook, where those articles have been shown to spread like wildfire. On the fake news Facebook post, click the down-pointing arrow in the top right corner, hit report post, select “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook,” and then “It’s a false news story.” Then Facebook will at least be alerted the post is a problem, hopefully by more people than by those sharing any falsehoods.

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