Look past your personal political biases. This is crucial in sorting out news content. We often believe the worst about people or politicians we despise. Those biases can blind us to what we are sharing on social media, even if there are red flags that suggest the stories may not be factual.
Do you recognize the source of the news item? Be wary if it comes from a source that you’ve never heard of. That doesn’t mean it’s false, and it could come from an obscure but legitimate news outlet. But take extra time to confirm the facts on sites you may not recognize.
Use search engines to see if anyone else is reporting this particular story or information. If it is as big a story as being promoted in the headline or share text on a social media site, surely other news outlets will have a version of the story at some point. Don’t believe those who tell you that the “mainstream media won’t report this information” because of some conspiracy among media elites. News sites are competitive and they aren’t going to ignore stories that are factual, compelling and will drive readership.
Check the link in your browser. Many fake news sites try to mimic actual news sites. The link might have a slight variation from the legitimate news site. If the link looks odd, that’s another red flag.
Look at other stories on the website. Does the content pass the “smell test?” Check out the writing style. Do the stories on the site have excessive capital letters, exclamation points, obvious grammatical errors, or other oddities that suggest the content may not be reliable? Is there a range of stories, or just a handful of stories pushing a particular point of view?
Read the “Contact Us” and “About Us” links. Are they working, and do they give information that is helpful? Can you email the story’s author, and get a response?
Go to fact-checking sites. Use them to see what they say about the news story before you post it on social media. Try factcheck.org, politifact.com, snopes.com, or any of the many other fact-checking sites. There are hundreds. And if you have questions about the quality of a particular fact-checking site, use multiple fact-checking sites to verify the information.
Be skeptical. It will help make you a smart news consumer. But be sure you use your skepticism to check out the facts in a thoughtful way. You have the technological tools to be a wise news consumer. Use them, and you won’t be fooled by those spreading disinformation.