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Five Tips for Spotting Fake News

February 26, 2024 (5 min read)
Don't let fake news ruin your reporting. Reliable databases can help you stay on track.

While “fake news” has always been around, the term rose in popularity since the 2016 elections. In mid-2016, an analyst for Buzzfeed found the top “fake news” stories about the US presidential campaign received more engagement on Facebook than stories from major media outlets, which caused a threat to serious media coverage due to the oversaturation of these falsified stories.

This same analyst eventually discovered several made-up stories originating from a small town in Macedonia, where people were making money via Facebook by advertising fake news sites. More than 100 pro-Donald Trump websites originating from the small town of Veles were found. According to the BBC, what was uncovered was “a unique marriage between social media algorithms, advertising systems, people prepared to make stuff up to earn some easy cash and an election that gripped a nation and much of the world.”

Now, with the proliferation of AI-created content, including the introduction of "deep fakes", it can be even harder to tell fact from fiction. 

As we enter another election year, it's more important than ever to make sure you are getting news you can trust. With this type of oversaturation and lack of trust, how can one spot fake news and not mistake it for fact? Here are four tips to make sure your news coverage is reliable and how Nexis® can help.

Tip 1: Know your sources

While research shows most news sources come with inherent biases, most try to at least monitor and manage these—but others completely embrace them. That is a tell-tale sign of untrustworthy news. One of the pillars of journalism is fairness and impartiality. If a news source is blatantly stating an opinion in a headline or opening paragraph, then it is not a trustworthy source. The caveat to that being opinion or editorial pieces, but these will, in most cases, have a disclaimer stating that the piece contains opinions from the writer rather than the publication.

Additionally, there are several websites that publish satirical news, such as The Onion, where the content is not meant to be taken as fact. The Onion, for example, identifies itself as satirical news that covers real and fictional events and parodies the tone and format of traditional news organizations, even modeling its voice after the venerated Associated Press. If you are ever unsure, check the “About Us” page to see how the news organization describes itself. If you cannot find anything about your source, that is a big warning sign.

Generative AI further complicates the issue as many AI platforms don't include sources in their summaries. This means it's your responsibility to fact-check AI-generated content to make sure you are not further sharing misinformation. 

This is all the more reason to use a trusted database like Nexis. In addition to finding the exact information that you need, you can click to learn more about the sources of the articles you are reviewing by clicking on the source title under Source Information to the right of an article. By doing this, you can be confident you are supporting your articles with verified and reliable research. 

MORE: Three helpful tips on how to research newspaper archives

Tip 2: When was this published?

Fake news sites will often link to real news sites to justify their claims, but these pages could be from months or even years prior, thus completely losing the context of the present-day situation.

Keep in mind that just because a legitimate news source that you trust is cited in the blog post or article, it does not mean that that blog post or article is legitimate itself. Check the sited source. One way to check is to find the original article. For example, Nexis has archived sources that go back decades, so even if they are pulling from an older article, you could find it!

Tip 3: Read more than the headline

It is not uncommon practice for even the most sophisticated of news organizations to use catchy or attention-grabbing headlines for more clicks. Headlines are never meant to tell the whole story; instead, they are meant to clue the audience into the topics should they choose to delve further. But to know whether the headline is a lie or legitimate, it is important to click the article and see for yourself.

Once you click the story, check whether it has been verified through data, statistics, or quotes. If it has, then ask yourself who is providing that data. Fake news sites will often make up fake data and quotes to support their claims, either attributing “facts” to a nonexistent organization or simply not attributing at all. Real journalists always cite their sources.

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Tip 4: Verify the information

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to tell if something is fake news or not is to simply find another known source that you trust and who is reporting on the same topic. If an article portrays something as groundbreaking or world-changing, but you don’t see the same topic posted by another trusted news source, then it’s likely not real. It could be that the author is publishing rumors or unverified information from unknown sources, and if that’s the case it should, of course, be taken with a great deal of skepticism.

The news cycle is 24/7, so real news will be published by real—and reliable—sources. Use a news aggregator like Nexis to search across 45,000+ sources to quickly vet or debunk headlines.

Tip 5: Is this well-written?

The overall writing style of an article can often provide clues to the trustworthiness of a news source. Bad grammar, incorrect spelling and even overall literacy can tell readers a lot about who is reporting the information.

Journalists are trained professionals who, in most cases, have taken university-level courses on how to do their jobs properly—just like any other profession. While an error may slip in every now and then, major news organizations also put their content through a vetting process of editors and copy editors before content is ever published. Legitimate news sources also announce and correct their substantive errors.

MORE: Top 5 reasons to take advantage of Nexis Free Trial

Pro-tip: Search the sources you trust

Relying on major search engines or social media is often how people are coerced into trusting fake news. Fortunately, Nexis for Media Professionals offers a solution to help avoid fake news by allowing users to create a source list that is curated by you. Simply go into Nexis, click the Sources tab, and add all reliable sources to your search. You can then favorite that source list so that you can view it on the Nexis homepage to ensure that your content is curated in a manner to include only the sources you trust.

Guarantee your news is from a reliable source. Request a Nexis trial today!