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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.

Opinion

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.

56 Comments on “4 tips to tell you if a news story is real or fake

  1. Another giveaway that a story is biased opinion meant to sway thinking is if there is a large negative slant that attacks a persons character without supporting evidence.

    Another trusted source I have is Reuters news. They adhere to the highest unbiased fact based standards.

  2. Gives a very good understanding of true reporting. The ones that should be listening are the ones who believe everything told to them. The snake oil salesmen selling his wares again.

  3. I look at the ads. I don’t click on them, I just look at the headline. If there are more ads than copy and it seems like all the ads are targeting hopefully gullible people….melt away belly fat overnight!….I assume the “news source” is looking for the same…so fake news or very biased. Best taken with several grains of salt.

  4. This is very important information. I use these methods, especially the Google search. I also use “fact-checking” websites, especially Snopes.com. Something that still troubles me is: How to know if a story was promoted by a corporation that stands to profit financially if it can sway public opinion? I don’t know how to get to the bottom of that.

    Another comment: your light-gray text on white background isn’t easy to read. I suggest black on white instead.

  5. Thanks for the insight. I will be on the look out for thes blunders

  6. #1 FOX News is definitely biased, the Republican point of view, I tried watching it at first to get a different perspective, They were so biased some news were absolutely false. The only FAKE news I have heard is coming out of the WHITEHOUSE. Barr for example NO COLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION. then when the Mueller Report finally is released, “THERE MAY BE 10 OBSTRUCTIONS”. How are we supposed to believe anything coming out of the WHITEHOUSE. And further how are we to believe anything coming out of the GOP controlled SENATE. LAST election They gerrrymandered their way to the Presidency. If that is not lie-ing to the public I will kiss your @$$!!! Clinton won fair and square by over 2.5 million votes. This whole Presidency is full of lies and cheats. WE had better start watching watch both hands are doing while he is waving with his right, Public lands, off shore rights. He did not want the presidency “FOR THE PEOPLE”. He has some get richer quick scheme up his sleeve.

  7. There should be a campaign to call out Trump for his attack on the press, calling anything unfavorable “fake news”. He’s the one that is fake.

  8. Thank you for these pointers. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump and his base of supporters don’t care about facts. His supporters simply follow his lead and deny facts or simply say “ So what?” He and his cult-like base are a true danger to our democracy.

  9. I appreciate your tips! More people need to be aware of their news sources and check things out if they sound dubious. I always cringe when friends tell me they get their news from Facebook, or even worse, Fox News.

    • I’ve come to believe that NPR should be required reading/listening for everyone who can read or listen to news reports. Granted that their reporting these days sounds anti-current-administration, they take pains to present both sides of issues via conversations with leading thinkers on both sides. Unlike those ‘news’ sources with a very clear bias, they are about as scrupulous as it’s possible to be about fact-checking. Along with the Post, the NY Times and a couple of others, they can be trusted (oh, rare and wonderful occurrence) to tell me the truth.

    • Very informative, clearly written very understandable. Thank you.

    • I no longer rely on CNN – they seem to be moving to the fox model. I always look up the journalist, what sources are cited, and as always – follow the money – who/ what organization pays the author. then I try to find other sources reporting the same news items.

  10. ANY news service(or commentators) that constantly interjects the “liberal media” or even just the term “liberal, liberals, liberal agenda” more than once throughout the article shows bias, is to me, nothing less than tRUMPs FAKE NEWS, aka, propaganda.

  11. Goiod journalists have uncovered so much lies and corruption and greed in the past. Their love of the Truth and pursuing the facts has often cost their lives. A few have been recognized with a Puliitzer Prize, because they were relentless to get to the bottom of the lies. It’s not only politics- it’s stories like. Big corporations dumping cancer causing chemicals in the water supply, spraying our crops with it , putting it in our food, etc. These reporters and their families are often threatened not to tell the Truth. Seems the Word Integrity, is no longer valued in our society. But without real journalism, our country would not be here. It’s what The Constitution deeply recognized that we needed to remain free and not become a dictatorship. I totally admire all the courageous journalists who don t back down in search for the Truth!

  12. Some “news” is so egregious that I feel compelled to reply, comment, or simply to ask a question of the source. Is there any way to do that so that it can be seen and responded to?

  13. Good info. Due to the conflicts I get into with other people that like to question how I get my news, I google their sources and tell them about themselves.

  14. Help the younger generation search for, and embrace, “the truth” by supporting high school classes, and teachers, which emphasize teaching and practicing CRITICAL THINKING skills as an integral part of the course objectives. Memorization of “facts” IS NOT an admirable way to approach teaching Social Studies, for instance. As a Social Studies teacher (retired teacher of Social Studies and ESL) in Vermont I discovered that teenagers get VERY INVOLVED in Issue Clarification activities such as debating and cooperative group research and presentations, for example. Witnessing student excitement and high level of involvement in thinking critically is exciting in itself! Martha Warner, former Vermont Resident and Teacher

  15. When I see something questionable on Facebook or in my inbox,, I tend to think, “If it is so, I will hear it on the News Hour.”

  16. Thank you very much for this reminder. While many I know try to avoid sharing “fake” news, it’s too easy to forget these simple tips in a rush to share, especially on social media.

  17. Democracy Now is a great news source although not well known.

  18. Develop critical thinking skills which give you the ability to differentiate fact from opinion. A fact is indisputable (can be proven) and is something that the vast majority of experts agree on. Common sense is critical. So, when The Donald says that “Kim loves his people,” alarm bells should be going off. This is especially the case when Trump (who says “I got words,” “very very very,” and admits in an interview that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired Comey) claims to be a genius!

  19. These tips are commonsense checks to make before accepting any news item as legitimate, however, they don’t go far enough. The problem with even legitimate media isn’t so much in the ways they report factual news, but with the manner in which they choose which stories to cover.

    For example, the New York Times, based as it is in the same town where Wall Street is more than mere metaphor, will virtually never run a story that would call capitalism into question.

    Most “reputable” news sources have this same blind spot, as a matter of fact.

    By the same token, in this country labor news and labor history have been almost completely ignored, or if not ignored, told from a management point of view—because business reporters are afraid of losing access to these sources which are always ready with material before deadline.

    The legitimate news outlets in this country are reliable as far as they go, but we should all be aware of what they aren’t telling us; in many cases this is the real story with far more significance than the words on their pages.

  20. I am very grateful to have read your tips to test for accurate reporting. I know that I need to spend more
    time to make the quick checks for legitimacy .

  21. Wonderful article! As a journalism major during the Watergate years, I learned the importance of who/what/when/where/why and wish more of our news outlets (progressive or conservative) adhered to those standards.

  22. Bravo for sharing this but I just cannot understand how Republicans can be so dense that they would believe anything that comes from the mouth of this fake president or from Fox News? They are both such an embarrassment to all Americans.

  23. I rely on several news sources a day, including Chicago Tribune, local newspapers and television as well as CNN, MSNBC, NPR to see if all are reporting the same story. I do not use social media at all.

  24. All the “reputable” news sources you reference in the first were quite supportive of the “fact” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the US before the 2003 invasion and subsequent slaughter. They also bought Bush #1’s phony assertion that Saddam’s soldiers pulled newborn babies out of incubators and through them on the floor to die, a story told before Congress by the daughter Kaiwait’s ambassador to the US.

    When it comes to serious disinformation to pull the US into illegal wars, fact checking by the “reputable” media is unreliable. “Reputable” Alternative Media sources do get it right; keep looking.

    • Per my memory, Reuters was a smaller, but still mainstream, news service that basically saw through the Bush administration’s false narrative back during the lead-up to the Iraq War. That was a case of POTUS lying to further a conservative political agenda. It wasn’t the same type of social media driven faux news that the Tips provided by CREDO are meant to help expose. When the POTUS lies, it’s difficult for the media to avoid reporting what is being said. But when it smells of taint, the media should dig deeper with investigative journalism. Some outlets do… some don’t. FOX is currently a good example of one that falls into the 2nd catagory.

    • Dear Mr. Palmisano: In war, truth is the first casualty. Aeschylus Greek tragic dramatist (525 BC – 456 BC)
      The only way to justify, rationalize, excuse, motivate war is to lie, so to me, truth has to be destroyed before war can happen, as we saw about both American wars in Iraq, the American war in Vietnam, the American CIA war in Chile, etcetera. Even the invasion of Canada by the young USA in 1812, when the Canadians burned Washington DC, was justified with lies beforehand.
      Full adherence to the truth has historically impeded wars—and the truth sayers have been either eliminated or removed—for a time.
      The sad truth is we can be whipped into a frenzy easily, which is the main occupation of politicians everywhere…

    • Most everyone got snookered by the admin. Almost every Democrat voted to go to war. Powell was snookered and we believed him.

    • Agree that even the so called reputable media has a checkered past. Even the New York Times was complicit in hiding Stalin’s Genocide , the holodomor, against Ukraine from public awareness in exchange for more favored treatment by the Kremlin.
      Even pseudo progressive media such as The New York Times and Boston Globe are owned by wealthy oligarchs and depend advertising from special interests and try to marginize liberal candidates and ideas such as universal healthcare and merit rather then income based access to higher education which are mainstream in most of the civilized world as too extremely left wing for the USA.

  25. I advise that if as a result of reading a “news item” you feel any emotions of hate, fear, or anger, you should stop and “re-set.” For sure, in these instances , be skeptical – very skeptical. Do all the things you advise above, and more. Identify the source. Look for other sources and what they say about the topic. Have the self esteem and pride to not allow your self to be played for a sucker.

  26. These are good guidelines. Reports from only headlines can be misleading (you need to read at least two paragraphs to get the essence of the story). Often a false or misleading story will be forwarded to many others, multiplying the error. Of course it’s wise to verify news you hear only verbally.

  27. Very good advise / tips and have used the same ‘tips’ in the past. I just ‘hate’ to be wrong. Also quite upsetting to me when I read forwards from friends / colleagues who send ‘fake news’ or embellish on the stories and never check on its truthfulness. I often
    check it with FactCheck.org or snopes.com to confirm and forward it to the sender.

  28. Although I usually can glean the bias from the ways info is presented I would really appreciate if someone could create a table listing all the most quoted online new sources (e.g., HuffPost, Vox, Politico, etc.) and their political leanings – preferably not simply dichotomized (or more exactly trichotomized) but also giving some measure of the strength of their leaning using an ordinal ranking scale (e.g., mild, strong, etc.). I subscribe to The Week which frequently cites online news sources I am not familiar with. Such could serve as one more tool for those seeking the truth.

  29. Good basic article. One thing I’d add is that even with so-called “fact-based” articles, often the implicit bias is the “sin of omission.” That’s quite common now and requires an alert reader who favors a wide variety of sources in order to get the more complete picture of an event or issue.

    For those interested in more, this recent article and its link to the actual online course are interesting and encouraging:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/16/calling-bullshit-college-class-news-information

  30. Good advice but lately there have been many instances of one story posted to a web site that is false but many considered “legit”news sources have picked up that story and run with it without checking for facts.

    Seems folks folks (media included) often read headlines and not much more, then post or forward until the snowball is out of control and what was always false now seems true.

    It’s a mind field out there! The old adage, “Don’t believe everything you read” is important today than ever.

  31. Very clear, fair, and balanced. More people should spend time digging into WHERE their “news” is coming from and whether it’s real or Made in RUSSIA! Read the Mueller Report!

  32. Thank-you so much for this post. The UCal weblink is the best outline of evaluating news that I have seen. I have some relatives that I wish would look at it!

  33. Thank you. I shall share this.
    Googling is so easy. It’s the one simple way I recommend to friends when I see and point out fake news or a hoax posted on Facebook. But it sometimes feels like I’m banging my head against a brick wall! Gullibility is hard to counter but I shall not stop trying.

  34. Critical thinking used to be learned as a by-product of a standard elementary and high school education. However, with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, and the dumbing down of the America educational system, the idea seems to have taken hold that “if it’s on The Net, it must be true”. This article will, I hope, provide a good foundation for checking what one reads there. This is the Information Age, but “information” is not “truth”; as Peter Steiner’s famous 1993 cartoon says, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

  35. All good things to keep in mind. If you really want get a different perspective, I suggest giving the BBC a listen. They have an App. They are a bit removed from our polarized news media. Good stuff. Check it out.

    • But their tip goes against BBC, since, like most UK sites, it includes .co between BBC & .UK.

  36. The suggested “reputable sources” were nothing more than the usual mainstream propaganda tools that have completely discredited themselves with a multitude of garbage including (but by no means limited to) WMDs, JFK single bullet theory, Gulf of Tonkin attack, Iraqi incubator attacks, support for terrorists like the Contras, Russia-gate nothing burger conspiracy, etc. Google? Pleeeeze!!!! In fact this whole “helpful hints” article is a step in the wrong direction and smacks of DNC/intelligence collusion.

  37. Well-researched books will tell you a lot more about what’s going on in the world than daily news cycle stories appearing in social media or even in more traditional news outlets. The pressure to compete for viewers/readers naturally dumbs everything down in those information sources, even in “reputable mainstream news outlets” like the NYTimes or Washington Post (see Bill Palmisano’s comment near the top of these comments).
    If you want to know what’s going on in the world the “news” is just too new, too untested, too unsubstantiated, and too prone to sensationalizing to give you a reliable clue (remember all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?).

  38. I’d like to add one of aspect of the “fake news” that is a bit disturbing. There are a lot of organizations, legitimate and not, that want to persuade you to sign a petition, complete a survey, or write to your government representative (Federal, State or Local) about a specific legislative bill or situation that your rep may be weighing in on. In the case of a legislative bill, or court case, the organization tends to tell you what it says, what to think, or what would happen if, etc., etc. That is all good and sometimes helpful, but quite often these organizations (reputable or not) do not do real analysis or point you to where you can see and read the actual document (the bill, the article, the story, or the court case). They typically expect you to respond according to their instructions, to take action….and, of course, donate!. That should raise at least a skeptic flag.

  39. Beware of bait-and-switch tactics.They start with plain truths but gradually graft onto them falsehoods.

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