Top 5 Ways to Spot Fake News

There once was a world where Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite read the news to America so credibly that you knew that it had to be true. The emergence of multiple media outlets changed that by the 1980s and even the CNNs and Fox News of the world have been eclipsed by thousands of online sites sharing news in real time each second.

These thousands of sources report news with authority and while some of it is true, some of it is reported with bias and some of it is intentionally fake.

Here are just a few examples of actual news reports that gathered hundreds of thousands of views online.

  • Planet Nibiru is headed straight for Earth
  • Pope Francis endorses President Trump
  • US Bacon Reserves Hit 50 Year Low 
  • Altar Boys Arrested for Putting Weed in Incense Burner

The problems with these headlines?  There is no planet Nibiru, the Pope never endorses candidates, we don’t have a US Bacon Reserve and to the best of our knowledge either altar boys never did this or they got away with it.

None of these are true and the outlets that reported them knew that when they posted it or even worse, actually created the fake news simply to drive traffic to their sites.

Then how does a teacher know what is true and what is fake? What wisdom can you share with students who ask the same question?

ThinkFives surveyed reputable online sites and compiled this list to help you discern fact from fiction and how to avoid the concept Steven Colbert once called “truthiness” – the feeling that something is true, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Consider the Source

Consider the Source

Plato may be considered to be the origin of the phrase “consider the source”, but this a response to Phaedrus, not a clairvoyant warning about the Internet.  Yet the insulting dismissal is more relevant today than it was in the Greek agora.

When reading a posting, the first question a teacher or student must ask is:

  • Who is the source?
  • Have you heard of them before?
  • If not, how can you validate their legitimacy?
  • If yes, what is their reputation?

Services you’ve never heard of before or not quoted by any legitimate news sources, should be considered with great caution. There are hackers, mischievous students and even sanctioned national efforts to create and promote websites with information that is completely inaccurate and self-serving for another purpose.


  • Sites sponsored by political parties, which seldom will provide a balanced view
  • Sites sponsored by trade groups or companies which will be promoting their product or information supportive of their industry and not interested in a balanced view
  • Sites sponsored by individual bloggers whose only interest it is to get more eyeballs no matter how outrageous the postings
Don’t Be Misled by a Headline

Don’t Be Misled by a Headline

Have you ever heard of the term “clickbait”? The main purpose of a clickbait headline is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page. While grocery line newspapers have been perfecting this for years (how about alien babies seen out partying with Elvis?), the Internet has taken it to new levels.

Unreliable sites will often use misleading headlines to lure in readers and clicks. Before sharing a story with an outrageous claim, keep reading – what’s the whole story? Did the author bury the lead in efforts to make the story more attractive? Were credible and trustworthy sources used to back up the claim made in the headline?

Typically if a story is shared on social media with a misleading headline, readers will voice their frustration in the comments, either on the site itself or on the social media post. If you read a headline that sounds too outrageous to be true, oftentimes that’s because it is.


Find Other Sources

Are Other Sites Reporting the Same News?

A comet is rapidly approaching. Should I run to Costco and start stocking up?  What should I do?

The answer is simple. Don’t run to Costco.  Run to your browser and start searching online for any credible news organization reporting the same.

When a big news event occurs, multiple media organizations will report it, even when they didn’t break the story. Search for other publications that have posted stories about the event or topic. If no other news outlets are reporting the story, be skeptical about the accuracy of the article or video.

Credible news organizations go to great lengths to verify their stories. Even they don’t always get it right (Dewey Defeats Truman!).  In the US that means checking credible news organizations like CNN, Fox News, Bloomberg News, the New York Times or other authoritative organizations. Politics aside, if the New York Times  and Fox News agree, that’s probably a pretty reliable combination.


Check Facts

Turn to Fact Checkers

When in doubt you should also turn to fact checkers. There are sites online whose mission is to verify facts in major news items and events.  Most of these are not-for-profits that take their mission seriously and are staffed by professional journalists and fact checkers. Of course, you need to be cautious about these sites as well to make sure they are a legitimate fact checker and not a fake site themselves.

A few sites known as trustworthy fact-checking websites are,, and


Don't trust images

Don’t Take Images at Face Value

So you or your students are reading an article and there is an accompanying picture that validates the story. If Pope Francis is sitting in a suite having wine at the Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump, it must be true. Not necessarily.  (In this case Donald Trump doesn’t drink and Pope Francis doesn’t holiday in Florida).

Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images that look real. In fact, research shows that only half of us can tell when images are fake. However, there are some warning signs you can look out for such as strange shadows on the image, or jagged edges around a figure.

Images can also be 100 percent accurate but used in the wrong context. For example, photos of litter covering a beach could be from a different beach or from 10 years ago, not the recent alleged event.

You can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check where an image originated and whether it has been altered.

Admittedly, it is very difficult to ascertain the veracity of any picture. Therefore, you must follow the preceding advice and verify the source, check for confirming sources or even visit a fact checking site to validate the picture.


Our Final Advice

It is increasingly more difficult to separate truth from fake news but we cannot give up as teachers. Now more than ever, we need to educate our students on how to look for fake news and to never believe any single source.

Do you have any additional tips to discern fact from fiction?


What do you THINK?

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