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Five Tips on How to Spot Fake News Online

No, Pope Francis didn't endorse Donald Trump. And no, Trump didn't beat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. But how to tell what's real or fake?
Image: Facebook Newsfeed
In this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England. The British government has made proposals which would force Social networking websites such as Facebook to pass on details of users, friends and contacts to help fight terrorism.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

No, Pope Francis didn't endorse Donald Trump. And no, Trump didn't beat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. But a surge in fake news sites would like you to think that both those things are true.

A growing number of websites are espousing misinformation or flat-out lies, raising concerns that falsehoods are going viral over social media without any mechanism to separate fact from fiction. And there is a legitimate fear that some readers can't tell the difference. A study released by Stanford University found that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn't spot authentic news sources from ads labeled as "sponsored content."

The disconnect between true and false has been a boon for companies trying to turn a quick profit.

“There are more of these sites now because there’s an awareness that people can create fake news sites and make money from the ads,” explained Claire Wardle, an expert from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “A few years ago, we were mostly dealing with people who were misinformed, but not malicious.”

The rise of scammers has ensnared two of the world’s largest internet companies, Facebook and Google, in controversy over their role in giving fake news such an influential platform.

Melissa Zimdars, a communications and media professor at Merrimack College, compiled a comprehensive take down of fake news sites after she discovered that one of the top stories on Google News was spreading false information from a fake website.

Here are some tips from Zimdars on how to spot fake news:

  1. Stay away from sites with suspicious-looking web addresses, like those ending in .lo or

  2. Pay attention to the article's author. If there’s no byline on a story, or there is only one author for every post on the entire website, watch out. It may be an imposter.

  3. Be wary of news sites that host bloggers without any clear editorial or fact-checking process.

  4. Check if there’s an “about me” section on the website. This makes it easier to spot whether the news source is legitimate.

  5. Get your news from a variety of places. The best way to ensure that you’re not scammed by fake news is to read from a diverse array of news sources, and not just what pops up on a Facebook feed.