Over recent years, more and more hoax-news websites have appeared online. These sites publish stories that – for the most part – are simply made up by their authors but a designed to look like actual news reports.
The stories may use the names of real people and reference real events but are fictional nevertheless.
Many of the stories tend to spread rapidly via social media in the form of brief messages comprising a headline, introductory text, and a link back to the full report.
These hoax-news sites often try to palm themselves off as satirical or for “entertainment purposes only”. The problem is that their fictional stories are deliberately presented as news articles. The sites are formatted so that they resemble genuine online news sites. In some cases, the fake-news sites even use logos and formatting to make it appear that they are associated with well-known news outlets.
Thus, many people are fooled into believing that the stories are genuine and factual. And, they are therefore more likely to share the stories via social media thereby spreading the nonsense even further.
Here are four quick ways to help identify a hoax-news article:
1. Search For the Topic on a News Aggregator
If a news story is real and significant, many genuine news outlets will likely cover it. This is especially true if the story discusses a political leader or event, the death of a celebrity, or a major disaster or terrorist attack. Thus, searching for the topic on a news aggregator such as Google News should reveal if a circulating story is true.
The absence of any references to the story on genuine news websites should certainly raise a red flag.
2. Check Other Stories on The Site
Have a browse through other stories featured on the site. Do many of them sound weird or unbelievable? And, again, can any of the stories be confirmed via legitimate news outlets?
3. Check for a Disclaimer
Some fake-news sites include a disclaimer that states that stories published on the site are fictional or satirical. The disclaimer is often on the site’s ‘About’ or “Contact Us” page. Or it may be included in the site’s footer.
Unfortunately, not all such sites include a disclaimer. Nevertheless, if you suspect that a news article that you are reading may be untrue, it is worth checking for a disclaimer.
4. Search for References to the Site on Other Websites
Often doing a search such as ‘< name of site > satire’, ‘< name of site > hoax’, or ‘< name of site > fake’ can bring up reports on other websites that reveal the true nature of the site.
An Aside: ‘Hoax-News’ v. ‘Fake-News’ — What’s in a Name?
For the last several years, these false stories and the websites that generate them have usually been referred to as “fake-news”. And, indeed, the term “fake-news” fits them very well and they deserve the label.
But, in recent months, the perceived meaning of the term “fake-news” has shifted and it is now more commonly used in a political context. High profile political leaders now regularly use the term to describe traditional mainstream media outlets that cast them in a critical light or publish material that they disagree with. And the term has become a potent catch cry that is oft-used by commentators across the political spectrum.
So, to avoid any confusion or political connotations, it may be wise to begin referring to the openly false and fictional “news” stories that plague social media by another name. And “hoax-news” seems fitting.