How to Spot Fake News on Social Media

By NYPL Staff
April 7, 2020
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As we practice safe social distancing, the urge to stay connected with friends and family through social media has never been stronger. We’re spending countless hours receiving news updates from a variety of sources on social media and it can be difficult to know what is true and what is not. 

The Misinformation Age

The flood of information is disorienting. It can be difficult to sort between what is real and what is fake on the internet. This phenomena is so common, in fact, that the World Health Organization and  some publications have begun to refer to the flood of information on social media as an “infodemic.” 

It’s important to remember, however, that although terms like “fake news” and “infodemic” are new to our lives in the social media age, we can rely on tried and true research skills, critical thinking, and fact-checking so we don’t fall for hoaxes or misinformation.

Addressing Fake News

New York Public Library departments have been hard at work updating and improving our services to address our patron’s needs. In particular, the TechConnect department is updating its classes with information, best practices, and resources to identify fake news or misinformation on social media. We’ll be including these tips in our publicly accessible technology classes as we prepare to teach online over the coming months.

Tech Connect logo

While we’ve written about the history of fake news in the past, we wanted to share some of these resources and best practices with you below so you know how to spot fake news or misinformation on your social media feeds.

Check the Web Address

First, we should read closely to see if there are any spelling errors in the address. Our brains are pretty good at unscrambling text, but they aren’t perfect. Close reading will go a long way as we develop an eye for spotting fake news.

Secondly, as we become more regular and avid consumers of news and information, we’ll begin to learn the correct web addresses simply because we’ll see the same names over and over. This part can be tricky, especially when we’re just beginning to learn the correct names. But with practice we’ll get better and better at distinguishing real from fake.

Can you spot the fake websites below?

news website urls

Verify the Source

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Is the news organization familiar to you? Is it trustworthy? This next step can be a little harder because we may have to do some research, but that goes a long way in preventing the spread of misinformation across our collective social media feeds.

Websites like Facebook and Twitter have helped a bit with this step with the inclusion of a blue checkmark for verified individuals or organizations, but we should practice caution and research the individual or organization with a quick web search to see their other work in context.

Additional Resources

Did you know that some websites are dedicated to fact-checking the news? We’ve compiled a few trustworthy websites for you if you’re ever doubting a claim you see on the internet.

  • Snopes: One of the oldest, most reliable fact-checking sites on the web. Updated throughout the day to debunk fake news, hoaxes, and misinformation.
  • Politifact: A fact-checking initiative from the Poynter Institute
  • ProPublica: An independent journalism non-profit 

Stay connected with our technology classes to learn more about fake news on social media from our team of instructors. We will be rolling out online classes over the coming months as NYPL works to address its patron’s needs during this unprecedented moment in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, stay informed with current and historical news sources from home through NYPL’s vast array of online databases. You can find a great guide to these remote resources and more here.