CREDO Tips: 4 tips to tell you if a news story is real or fake

Illustration of tablet with fake news headlines

It’s Donald Trump favorite way to dismiss real news he doesn’t like. Ironically, he’s guilty of spreading so many lies – more than 8,000 in his first two years – that he’s a one-person fake news outlet.

Sadly, the right-wing attack on factual reporting is eroding trust in the news media.

But actual “fake news” is a big problem online.

False news stories, meant to appear legitimate, played a role in the 2016 presidential election. And Russian trolls and other bad actors continue to spread misinformation to meddle in our political process. You may even have fallen victim by sharing a fake news story on social media.

So how can you spot fake news and stop the spread of false news stories online? We have four tips for you.

Check the source

Every day, we see some pretty outrageous news stories online. Some are clearly false, and some sound too good to be true. So what’s real and what’s fake?

First, check the source. Reputable news outlets are objective, generally adhere to fact-checking standards, and try to avoid sensationalism. Some of these are names you know: The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and the Associated Press. That’s a good place to start.

Additionally, some fake news sites are made to look like a legitimate news website. Check the URL to ensure it’s a site you recognize. Sometimes fake news URLs are a misspelled version of real news site or may not end with “.com” or “.org”, but .co, .ru or something else uncommon.

Here are some additional tips from the library at the University of California, Merced.

Be skeptical

Objective journalism seeks the truth by getting the facts right. And while reputable journalists sometimes make mistakes, they strive to meet ethical journalistic standards and issue corrections when they’ve erred.

Some credible news sources have a bias, and in some cases, that’s okay because their news reporting can still be accurate while including a point of view. (think HuffPost or Vox.).

But if a story has a sensational headline or seems to overly reinforce your already-held beliefs, be skeptical.

Then ask yourself: Who gains from this reporting? Most fake news benefits from spreading blatantly false content to sway opinion or drive traffic to their fake news sites to sell advertising. Don’t fall into the trap.

What exactly are you looking at?

Not all articles on a reputable news site are hard news. Some stories are factual reporting. Others are meant to entertain or sway opinion. It’s important to know what kind of article you’re reading.

Hard News

Legitimate news articles are based on facts. They answer the crucial questions who, what, why, where, and when.

An example of a legitimate news story would be A Virtual Solar Power Plant for L.A? “It Will Happen in The New York Times.


These include editorials, op-eds, and many blog posts. They are usually based on facts but contain a point of view – sometimes the bias is very clear, but more often than not, it may be a little harder to suss out.

In reputable publications, opinion pieces are clearly labeled. Here’s an example from The Washington Post:
Biased News

Like all of us, reporters and bloggers are human, and they have opinions, too. Some outlets report hard news with a clear point of view, and many of them are honest about their bias. For example, see the “About” page at Think Progress:

Example of biased news from Think Progress

However, extremely biased outlets like Trump’s propaganda machine Fox News often mix opinion and entertainment with news, making it difficult for an audience to know what’s real and what’s fake. Fox News’ slogans “Fair and Balanced,” and more recently “Real news. Real honest opinion” is so brazenly misleading that 67% of Republicans find Fox News their most trusted source.

Google it

This is an easy one: Before sharing a questionable news story, do a quick Google search. Are other reputable news sites reporting the same story, in a similar way? If so, there’s a greater likelihood that the news story is legitimate.

These are just four ways to help determine if an article is real or fake. Are there other methods you use? We’d love to hear about them.