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Four Quick Ways to Spot Hoax News Stories

by Brett M. Christensen

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.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,