Democracy Day: How to spot fake news

Fake news is nothing new. But stories full of disinformation can now reach more people more quickly via social media. Following are some times to spot fake news:

Don’t just read, share, and comment on a headline on social media. Click the link and read the story first. You could embarrass yourself by sharing something you have not actually read.

Big red flags for fake news are all caps or photoshopped pictures.

Another red flag is the lack of a byline on a story. Legitimate publications and writers put their names on their stories.

Check the domain. Fake news sites often use domain names that are similar to legitimate news websites.

If you visit a website and are bombarded with pop-ups and banner ads, it’s a good sign a story is just clickbait.

Check the about page for a news website and see if the publisher is identified. Google the name of the publication and publisher to see what comes up.

Verify an unlikely story by looking to see if reputable news outlets are reporting similar stories.

Check the date of the story. People often share outdated stories on social media.

Use a reverse image search engine to see where an image really comes from.

If you’re not sure a story is true, don’t share it.

More and more news sites are cropping up that include just a smattering of real news mixed in with lots of political propaganda.

A more difficult to recognize problem with all websites that feature “news” is paid promotions masked as news. Some websites and magazines post articles in exchange for paid ads but don’t label the content as sponsored content. This is against federal regulations. If you see a glowing story about an organization or business along with a glossy ad, you should recognize that the story is likely part of an advertising package. This would be fine if the outlet clearly labels the story, but many news outlets don’t.

This story was published by Planet Princeton as part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative reporting project aimed at highlighting threats and challenges to democracy in the United States. Learn more at