Thursday, February 25, 2016

How to recognize a satirical, hoax, or fake news website

A friend asked me if I could provide a list of all the satirical, hoax, and fake news websites on the Internet. There are thousands of such sites on the Internet, with more added every day, and it can be embarrassing to realize that the link you posted on Facebook goes to one of them. Since there are so many, it was easier to write about how to recognize that what looks like a news website is actually a satirical, hoax, or fake site.

I realized that others might find these tips useful, so I've posted them here. Here are eight things you can do to protect yourself from being fooled. You don't have to do all of these things every time; with a little practice you'll get a sense of which one to apply.

1. Understand why such sites exist

Satirical sites such as the Onion ( are intended to be funny. Hoax sites delight in humiliating people who hold particular views. Fake sites look like well-known websites such as the BBC or CNN, but contain fake news. All of them earn money from advertisers, who pay a fee for every visitor lured to the site.

2. Examine your true inner motives

Hoax and fake sites fool us because deep down we want them to be true. We love positive stories about breakthroughs in medicine or technology, and we love negative stories that reinforce our existing opinions. So we uncritically believe stories like "New car runs on air" or "Leader secretly a terrorist."

3. Check the website's URL (address)

Every web page has a unique address called a URL, formatted like this example:

The URL appears at the top of the window to identify the site. One way fake websites fool you is by using a URL subtly different from the URL of the trusted site they are pretending to be, hoping you won't notice the difference. For example:

If you suspect a website is a fake but you don't know the URL of the real website, use Google to find the real site. You can then compare both the URLs and the contents of the two sites.

4. Go directly instead of clicking links

If a link claims to go to a particular website, don't click the link but go directly to that site. If you don't know the URL of the site, Google it. That way you can be sure of going to the real site.

5. Check the story on some sites that track hoaxes

The top 5 sites that track hoaxes are:
One of these sites should have information if a hoax has been around for a while. Brand new hoaxes won't be listed unless someone reports them.

6. Check the story on other news sites

If a story is really big news, usually lots of news sites will carry it. Google News ( lets you search the world's online news sources; enter a few keywords found in the story, and Google will return stories that contain those words. If the big news story that got you excited doesn't exist anywhere else, the story may be a hoax.

7. Look for a disclaimer admitting that the site is a satirical or hoax site

To cover themselves legally, many satirical and hoax sites publish a disclaimer on their website, though it's often hard to find, and sometimes strangely worded. Look for links that say "Disclaimer," "About" or "About Us," etc. These are often near the top or bottom of the site's home page. One site has a rambling statement that trails off into fantasy, placed at the very end of the web page after all the user comments. Be creative and learn to hunt for such statements.

8. Read other headlines on the website

If you're still not sure the website's a hoax, read its other headlines. If one or more of them is plainly ridiculous, chances are the entire site is.

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