Facebook gives step-by-step instructions on how to spot fake news

Get better at knowing what’s real news.

With human moderators sent home due to the coronavirus, and artificial intelligence systems scrambling to replace them, Facebook is taking a small step to educate its users on how to spot fake news themselves.

“We are committed to reducing the spread of false news on Facebook,” the social media giant writes in a post in its help center, along with a few ways it’s working to curb the tidal wave of virus-related misinformation on its platform. Efforts include identifying false stories through community feedback and third-party fact-checkers and then responding not by removing the flagged content but by displaying it lower in the news feed, which can “significantly reduce their distribution and remove their advertising rights.”

Facebook, which is offering free advertising to the World Health Organization to combat COVID-19 misinformation, also has 10 tips for people to weed out fake news on their own, at a time when coronavirus-related conspiracy theories appear to be spreading as fast as the virus itself.

“Be skeptical of headlines.”

Fake news headlines often sound too good to be true — because they are. Especially beware of exclamation points and headlines written in all caps.

“Look closely at the link.”

Never heard of the news site in the URL? Does the link sound like an established news source you’ve heard of, but there’s a letter or two added, or missing? These are telltale signs that wherever that link leads, it’s not to the truth.

“Investigate the source.”

Brush up on the outlets you trust, and then keep your eye out for them. The internet is a big place, and a lot of sites work exclusively in the business of churning out false stories. Try searching outlets you’ve never heard of to see if they’re trusted — or junk.

“Watch for unusual formatting.”

Could you design a better homepage than that? See tons of spelling errors, and find the layout awkward? If the site you’re on looks off, the problem likely goes deeper.

“Consider the photos.”

Photos can be more convincing proof than words, but these days, they’re easily manipulated and may only show a version of the truth — or a total falsehood. To back-search an image and find where else it has been used, drag the file into Google Images to find out if what you were looking at was edited to show something other than reality.

“Inspect the dates.”

Pay close attention to the timelines given in the story. Do the dates match up with ones you can verify? If the timeline doesn’t track, it’s probably not you — it’s probably fake news.

“Check the evidence.”

Are there links out to other stories, attributions or credits in the article? Like scientists, journalists cite their sources, and while some pieces are entirely original reporting, most will at least involve statistics, photos or quotes that can be attributed to real, verifiable humans or outlets. Don’t be fooled by the bogus coronavirus remedies being promoted.

“Look at other reports.”

Is the outlet you’re reading the only one to report something extreme? It may be because that outlet made it up.

“Is the story a joke?”

To those who don’t realize publications like the Onion and ClickHole are satirical publications, the humorous pieces they produce may appear to be real news, when in fact they’re intended as parodies. Plenty of memes, too, are not actually purporting to be news but amusing takes on it.

“Some stories are intentionally false.”

Stop the spread of malicious content. Make sure what you’re reading is credible before passing it on. A lot of websites are peddling unsubstantiated claims about the coronavirus.

See something that doesn’t look right? Flag it.

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