How to Spot Fake News: A Complete Guide to Vetting Online News

How To Spot Fake News: A Complete Guide To Vetting Online News
7 tips on how to spot fake news articles so you can make sure you’re consuming accurate information while staying educated.

For many of us, “fake news” wasn’t a term we were familiar with until the 2016 US election (uttered repeatedly by certain presidential candidates with a dismissive wave of the hand).

But, the truth is, the concept of fake news has been around for a lot longer than that (and that is not fake news, we promise!). In fact, it predates the internet age, right back to the 19th century in which newspaper publications would use it to brag about their own journalistic standards, while insulting competitors.

But there’s no doubt that the information age has proliferated and fast-tracked the ease at which fake news can be created and spread. Thanks to the rise of unregulated social media platforms, metrics-driven ad revenue, AI-powered algorithms and user-friendly editing software, it’s become all too easy not just to read and see fake news online, but to also fall victim to it.

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While it might be tempting to brush off the existence of fake news as harmless, if not amusingly inaccurate, bits of content existing in the hyperspace of the internet, fake news is anything but harmless. When created and utilized as a weapon, fake news and misinformation can be a dangerous tool for breeding dissent, fear, suspicion and paranoia.

Don’t become another intellectual casualty (and it’s frighteningly easy to do so in today’s age) and learn how to spot fake news, including recognizing its tell-tale signs.

What do we define as fake news?

Before we dive into the semantics and structure of fake news, it’s important to understand that there’s no one kind of fake news. It can be about anything and exist in any content or media format.

Fake news tends to fall into two smaller categories, based on whether the information shared was deliberately or accidentally done so by the writer and news outlet.

Deliberately inaccurate fake news – created and published by writers and media outlets who knowingly incorporate false or inaccurate information at the time of publishing. This is generally done to manipulate public opinion or understanding for political, economic or commercial gain or to drive more traffic to a specific platform or website.

Accidentally or partially inaccurate fake news – these news stories, articles, videos and other forms of media tend to include an element of truth or fact but are still broadly inaccurate or due to being exaggerated or taken out of context. This could be because the writer hasn’t conducted thorough enough research or didn’t properly fact-check their work before publishing.

It’s essential to make this distinction because not every piece of fake news that exists online is intentionally malicious or harmful, it’s simply a byproduct of poor journalism practices and an emphasis on quantity over quality regarding output.

Different types of fake news

You can find all sorts of types of fake news on the internet and social media, from videos and audio clips, to blog posts and doctored (pun intended) news and medical “publications”. Let’s take a closer look at some examples below.

  • Clickbait – refers to all types of content that are designed to encourage more clicks and shares between online users and followers in exchange for greater ad revenue. It usually achieves this through using outrageous, outlandish, exaggerated, and entirely made up facts, stories and images that are designed to catch your attention and pique your interest. 
  • Misleading headlines – You could classify this as a type of clickbait, but misleading headlines tend to be more of a link that connects users to the content, which often contradicts what the headline discusses or promises. But regardless of its accuracy, the media outlets will still receive the ad revenue for earning the clicks.
  • Imposter content – content that has been created using replications of official logos, branding, website outlines and other key identifiers of genuine, established news sources and media publication outlets. Imposter content generally aims to mislead readers into thinking or believing an unverified, erroneous or untrue topic or fact is true for, often for political or commercial gain.
  • Propaganda – any type of content or media that utilizes partial or half-truths (such as medical stats taken out of context) to promote a biased perspective or political agenda. This tactic is often used by political parties to discredit each other.
  • Poor journalism – any content that accidentally contains factual errors or misrepresentations, due to poor journalism and editing practices. As online media companies and outlets become less regulated and more difficult to hold to an ethical standard, this type of fake news is becoming more common.
  • Satire – satirical articles, blog posts, videos and other content can be published deliberately with the purpose of entertaining readers, often by mocking and humiliating certain public figures, corporate bodies or even ideas. This type of fake news doesn’t intend to mislead its readers, however, if readers aren’t able to recognize it as being satire, they may easily believe them as true. 

How does fake news spread?

Fake news is most commonly shared from fake news websites which often try to mimic genuine, authoritative news and media hubs. Social media is a primary feeder channel for sharing and distribution from these websites, thanks to its ability to reach thousands of users in just a few clicks.

Social media algorithms tend to prioritize content based on engagement metrics, not authenticity or accuracy. Publishers, therefore, have more incentive to create false, inaccurate or sensational content with the hope of it maximizing user engagement. 

Bots on social media platforms can also spread fake news more quickly and easily than human users. By creating fake accounts, they can quickly build followings who will share and distribute their content too. Chain emails can also spread fake news straight to users’ inboxes. 

Recognizing fake news: tips and tricks

If you’re unsure about whether or not the information you’re receiving is real or fake news, there are a few strategies you can utilize to verify its authenticity.

  • Check the source – the most obvious tell that it’s fake news is a misspelled or made-up website URL. If you’re still unsure after looking at the URL, click away from the content to investigate the site and its objectives.

  • Assess the author – have a look at the author who created the content piece. Look them up online to assess what other content and media pieces they have created, and pay attention to their qualifications and specific area of expertise. Is there a common agenda underlying all or most of their content pieces? If so, consider what the author’s motivation might be.

  • Read beyond the headline – if an attention-grabbing headline sounds outrageous, it more than likely is. Before hitting the share button, read a little more below the headline to determine if the article supports the headline’s claim (it will usually be fairly easy to tell within a few lines).

  • Check other sources – are the claims or facts being shared on the article or video substantiated by other reputable news sources? If not, this is a big red flag for potential fake news. It’s also important to click on the links included in the article – are they from credible sources and do they support what the article is claiming?

  • Evaluate your biases – could your inherent beliefs be affecting how you view the article in terms of its authenticity? We all have internal biases that influence our thoughts and opinions (even when presented with contrary evidence). Double check to make sure your biases aren’t influencing your evaluation of the article’s authenticity.

  • Consult a fact-checking site – when in doubt, defer to an expert, whether in real life or online. If you’re online, then using a fact-checking website like PolitiFact, Fact Check, and BBC Reality Check can help you separate fact from fiction in news articles.


  • Is it a joke? Sometimes satire can be so well-executed that it might actually come across as plausible on the first view). Satirical articles, posts and videos and websites can appear very authentic but if you look closer, you’ll be able to start identifying that it’s humorous content. If it’s too outlandish, too outrageous or appearing to mock someone or something, it’s likely satire. If you’re not sure, have a look at the original website. If there is a lot of similar content, it’s likely a satirical website. A good example is The Onion.

Know how to spot fake news on any platform

We don’t just consume content for entertainment. How many of us have Googled the symptoms of an illness or the pros and cons of getting a certain procedure before deciding to or not (even though you should always consult with your doctor first). 

In today’s digital age, we consume content for research, information which plays a direct role in the decisions we make. It’s vital to be able to recognize fake news and separate it from authentic, verified, reputable news content and sources. 

The best way to do this is to utilize a news and media platform that rigorously vets and selects its publication partners, ensuring only trusted and reputable news outlets are made available to users. 

For instance, at Invisibly we only partner with trusted and reputable news sources, delivering verified, credible articles and insight to our users. The best part? It’s free and you can sign up in less than two minutes.

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