How do I know the news I read online is real?

Since the US election, there’s been a debate over the role of fake news in influencing how people decided how to vote.

Fake news – which can spread particularly quickly through social media sites like Facebook, prompting this response from Mark Zuckerberg – arises online for several reasons. Sometimes, these articles are deliberate attempts to mislead people for a specific purpose, political or otherwise. In other cases, they are simply made up and made as shareable as possible with the aim of gaining advertising revenue from the resulting traffic. But since anyone with basic technical knowledge can build a good looking, and seemingly genuine news website, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between what’s true, and what’s fake.

When you’re online, there are a few things you can do to make sure the news you’re reading is genuine:

Check other sources, the site’s credentials and its URL

When you see an interesting headline and click through to read the full story, take a moment to check the site’s credentials. If you’ve never heard of the site before, it’s worth double checking to see if other news outlets are running the story as well. If you can’t find anyone else covering the story, that could be sign you need to take it with a pinch of salt.

If the site is reputable but you’re still not convinced, double check the URL. Some fake news sites have used real sites’ branding and then bought a deliberately confusing domain name. For example, the real BBC News is www.bbc.com/news, while a fake site attempting to confuse you might be registered at something like www.bbc.com.co/news. Watch out and double check if you need to.

Read beyond the headline

study carried out by Columbia University and the French National Institute in summer 2016 found that nearly 60 percent of all links shared online have never been clicked. Instead people just see an attention-grabbing headline and hit ‘share’.

The fake news writers are relying on this behavior to spread their stories. So always take the time to read the full story, as it may quickly reveal itself as untrue.

Look for sources and citations

Any claims or statistics included in news reports should always be backed up by a credible source, so always check before you believe what you read. Of course, some fake news sites may well cite a similarly unreliable source, in which case you should double check again at a reputable site.

Check the facts for yourself

If you’re still in doubt over the truthfulness of a story or fact, there are several online resources devoted to fact checking and debunking rumors. Sites such as http://www.factcheck.org/ and http://www.snopes.com/ are regularly updated to cover the increasing number of false stories being shared online.

Time will tell how Facebook, Google and the other web giants react to the growing problem of fake news. For now, follow the advice above and share any further tips in the comments below.