How to overcome fake news in your Facebook feed


Just because just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true. It sounds so simple, but if everyone knew this, Facebook and Google wouldn’t have to remove fake news sites from their advertising algorithms, and people wouldn’t be breathlessly sharing stories claiming that Donald Trump is a secret lizard person or Hillary Clinton is a android with a pantsuit.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fake news is really easy to spot – if you know how. Consider this your Guide to Media Literacy.

NOTE: When we put this together, we sought input from two communications experts: Dr. Melissa Zimdarsassociate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts the dynamics of which list of unreliable news sites has gone viral, and Alexios Mantzarlisthe head of the International fact-checking network at the Poynter Institute.

First, learn about the different types of misleading and fake news

1. Fake news

  • These are the easiest to debunk and often come from well-known fake sites that are designed to look like real news outlets. They may include misleading photographs and headlines that, on first reading, sound like they could be real.
  • 2. Misleading news

  • These are the hardest to disprove, because they often contain a kernel of truth: a fact, event, or quote that has been taken out of context. Look for sensational headlines that are not supported by the information in the article.
  • 3. Very partisan news

  • A type of misleading news, it can be an interpretation of an actual news event where the facts are manipulated to fit an agenda.
  • 4. Clickbait

  • Shocking or teasing headlines on these stories trick you into clicking for more information, which may or may not live up to what was promised.
  • 5. Satire

  • This one is tough, because the satire isn’t meant to be factual and serves as commentary or entertainment. But if people aren’t familiar with a satire site, they may share the news as if it were legitimate.
  • Second, brush up on your fact-checking skills

  • Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact checkers for a living. He says it’s important to have “a fair amount of skepticism” and think, really think, before sharing a news story.
  • “If we were a little slower to share and retweet content based solely on the headline, we’d go a long way toward combating falsehoods,” he told CNN.
  • Melissa Zimdars points out that even those who spend a lot of time online are not immune to fake content.
  • “People think that [thinking] it only applies to adults,” he told CNN. “I think even early childhood education should teach about communication, media and the Internet. Growing up with the internet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re internet savvy.”
  • To get you started, here are 10 questions you should ask if something seems fake:

    says Zimdars sites with strange suffixes like “.co” or “.su”, or hosted by third-party platforms like WordPress should raise a red flag. Some fake sites, like the National Report, have legitimate-sounding names, if not overly generic, that can easily fool people on social sites. For example, several false reports from have gone viral before being debunked, including a June article claiming that President Obama signed an order to ban the sale of assault weapons.

    Mantzarlis says one of the main reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is because people are absorbed by a headline and don’t bother clicking.

    This week, several dubious organizations circulated a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. “Pepsi STOCK Plunges After CEO Tells Trump Supporters To ‘Take Your Business Elsewhere,'” said one such headline.

    However, the articles themselves did not contain this quote or evidence that Pepsi stock experienced a significant drop (it did not). Nooyi made comments on the record about Trump’s election, but was never quoted as telling his supporters to “take your business elsewhere.”

    Sometimes legitimate news can be twisted and resurrected years after the fact to create a false combination of events. Mantzarlis recalls an erroneous story that actually quoted a legitimate CNNMoney story.

    A blog called Viral Liberty recently reported that Ford had moved production of some of its trucks from Mexico to Ohio due to Donald Trump’s election victory. The story quickly caught fire online; after all, it seemed like a big win for the domestic auto industry.

    It turns out that Ford moved some manufacturing from Mexico to Ohio in 2015. It had nothing to do with the election results.

    Photos and videos can be too taken out of context to support a false claim. In April, the liberal site Occupy Democrats posted a video purportedly showing a young woman being pulled out of a bathroom by police for not looking feminine enough. This was during the height of the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy, and the article clearly linked the two. “BEGIN,” read the headline.

    However, there was no date on the video or evidence that it was shot in North Carolina, where the “bathroom bill” was supposed to pass.

    In fact, according to Snopes, the same video was posted on a Facebook page in 2015, meaning it predated the HB2 controversy.

    It’s not just political news that can be fake. Now8News is one of the more infamous fake-but-looks-real sites that specializes in the kind of weird news that often goes viral.

    One such article claims that Coca-Cola recalled Dasani water bottles after a “clear parasite” was found in the water. There was even a dirty image purporting to show the parasite, though some basic googling reveals that it’s probably a photo of a young eel.

    Regardless, the article had no statement or claim by any company. Clearly, this would make a great story. Dasani or any consumer advocacy group would release statements or press releases about it, right? There is none, because the story is 100% false.

    Trump fake meme

    another 98%

    One of the favorite memes in liberal Facebook groups includes a fake Donald Trump quote purportedly from a 1998 People magazine interview:

    “If I had to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They’ll believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be great.

    This one is easily debunked if you take even a moment to think about it: has extensive archives, and this the quote is nowhere to be found in them

    During this election season, Pope Francis got caught up in three super-viral and completely false stories. According to several (fake) websites, the Pope endorsed three US presidential candidates: First, Bernie Sanders, National Report and “reported”. Then Donald Trump, as “reported” by fake news site WTOE 5 News. Finally, another fake news site reported that he had endorsed Hillary Clinton!

    In all of these cases, subsequent reports reverted to falsehoods. It’s always good trace a story back to its original sourceand if you find yourself in a loop, or if they all lead to the same dubious place, you have reason to doubt.

    01 clinton trump split MOBILE WEB

    JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Both Zimdars and Mantzarlis say Confirmation bias is an important reason fake news spreads as they do. Part of this is built into Facebook’s algorithm: the more you like or interact with a certain interest, the more Facebook will show you related to that interest.

    Likewise, if you hate Donald Trump, you’re more likely to think negative stories about Donald Trump are true, even if there’s no evidence.

    “We look for information that already fits our established beliefs,” says Zimdars. “If we come in contact with information that we don’t agree with, it can still reassure us because we will try to find fault.”

    So, if you come across a scandalous article that seems “too good to be true,” beware: it just might be.

    Did you know that there is an international fact-checking network (led by Mantzarlis)? And what has a code of principles? The code includes the ideals of non-partisanship and transparency, among others. Sites like, Snopes, and Politifact adhere to this code, so if you see a denial there, you know it. you are getting the real deal. See the full list here.

    This is where things can be complicated. Obviously, there is a big difference between “misleading” news, which is usually based on fact, and “fake” news, which is just fiction masquerading as fact. The now-famous Zimdars list covers both types, as well as satire and sites that capitalize on clickbait-type headlines. Snopes also maintains a list.

    While Zimdars is glad his list has gotten so much attention, he also cautions that completely writing off some of the sites as “fakes” isn’t accurate. “I want to make sure this list doesn’t do the ultimate goal a huge disservice,” he says. “It’s interesting that some of the headlines [about my list] are as hyperbolic as the ones I’m analyzing.”

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