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Tips for Spotting and Handling Online Misinformation

Adapted from the Poynter Institute's "How to Spot Misinformation Online" course



Social media platforms weren’t developed with facts and truth in mind. Before you share a post you've seen on Facebook, Twitter, or any other site, it's best to do a fact-check.


Here are 3 questions to ask yourself before sharing:

  1. Who’s behind the information, and would they benefit from you sharing this info?

  2. What’s the evidence?

  3. What are other sources saying?



…and 4 warning signs to watch for:

  1. Stirs up strong feelings (e.g., surprise or disgust)

  2. Seems to confirm your opinion or worldview

  3. No date or author

  4. Comes from an unverified account*, or a non-expert

*On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, verified accounts have a blue checkmark.


How false news sites work


False news websites are designed to look like authentic news sites, but they are actually run by misinformers looking to push debunked narratives or make advertising money by harvesting your clicks.


These sites will use layouts and names that mimic professional newspapers, but the stories are inaccurate or one-sided. Health Impact News is a prominent example.


To check authenticity, look for author, byline, and “about” page.


The role of social media algorithms


Social media platforms show you posts that make you want to stay on their websites; the goal is for you to stay engaged and share.


That’s where algorithms come in. Algorithms help predict what you like or are interested in based on what you previously viewed or interacted with.


The problem? If you only see posts from people and organizations you agree with, you’re more likely to share or interact with those posts. This is due to confirmation bias: a way of thinking in which you might remember, search for, read or interpret information in a way that confirms your world view. If you don't check your bias, you may not do the proper fact-checking required to ensure that you're not sharing misinformation.


What you can do


  • Have a healthy news diet. This means a variety of news sources and following people with various points of view.

  • Lateral reading is a great way to research the reliability of online information. It requires you to open multiple tabs to gain further information about a subject or information source.

  • Refine your web searches. If you put quotes around a set of words or phrases, your search will be limited to the exact phrase you placed in quotes.

    • Using "AND" in all capital letters means both terms must be present in the results.

    • Using "OR" in all capital letters tells the search engine that one or the other terms need to be present.

    • Using a minus sign (-) will exclude the term from your search.

    • To search for something on a specific website, add the phrase: "site:mywebsite.com"

  • Reading upstream will take you right to the source of the claim or information you come across online.

    • Click on embedded links to get to the source information.

    • Read past the headline.

    • Check the date on the article you're reading or video you're watching.

  • Reverse image search is the simplest way to check the authenticity of an image.

    • This can often be accomplished by right clicking on an image (select “Search Google for Image” in the drop down).

    • On Safari you need to save the image on your desktop, then go to images.google.com. click on the camera icon on the right side of the search bar, and click on “upload an image.”


Tips for navigating challenging conversations about misinformation

  • Be transparent and stick to the facts, including sources and showing how you checked the facts.

  • When responding to misinformation, keep the relationship first.

    • Keep your emotions in check.

    • Don’t get personal.

    • Listen and empathize.



Free tools

  • Politwoops: Maintained by nonprofit investigative newsroom Pro Publica, this tool archives deleted tweets from notable politicians.

  • The Markup: This nonprofit investigative news organization created lets you check out social media feeds of those you might disagree with.



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