Fake news: How to know what to trust online

Have you ever read an article and been outraged, only to later learn it was fake news? Here are a few ways to work out whether the information you and your family is reading is legit.

As a former commercial news journalist I'm instinctively suspicious of everything I read online, in newspapers and on television. I know how quickly media outlets have to turn around reports, and how much pressure there is to make stories sound more exciting or extraordinary than they really are. I also know how many rogue click-hungry operators are trying to tap into the “news” space by sharing “amazing” stories that just aren’t real. As some would say, fake news. Unfortunately a LOT of the information online and circulating on social media is just not reliable.

So, here are a few tips I use when trying to work out whether something I'm reading or watching should be trusted.

lady looking at her phone in cafe

Check the source of the article or story

Look at the website or publication it was published on (or in). Facebook is trying to weed out 'clickbait' (which is awesome) but sometimes fake news still creeps into our Facebook feeds. Often just the name of the publication will tell you straight away that the article is not legit.

Otherwise you may find it helpful to check what else they've published and ask yourself: what's their motivation? 

Don't ever believe a headline without reading the article
Headlines have one purpose: to make you want to read an article. They're often exaggerated, simplified, and intentionally controversial. News articles and TV news reports are usually written by journalists, while headlines and television introductions often aren't. The person writing them often hasn't done any of their own research into the actual topic. Before you find yourself outraged by a headline, read the rest of the article. 
Check their "experts"
I hate to break it to you but some "experts" are fake, or simply unqualified. Doing a quick Google search of their listed experts may reveal their qualifications - or lack of.
Check where the author got their information from
If an article is quoting a new study or research results, it should provide you with enough information to track down the original study. That might be through a link, or even just the name of the study and/or its authors. If you type those details into Google, you should be able to find the original publication. Unfortunately - there's a little more legwork to do. Once you've found the study, look at 4 things.
  1. How big was the sample size of people involved? If it's a tiny sample, it's not worth reading.
  2. Who paid for it? Was the research funded by a company with an ulterior motive – for example a rice production company looking into the benefits of rice? If so, ignore it.
  3. If the study is looking at a treatment or product, has it compared the results to a placebo or a similar product? If not, the results could be extremely misleading.
  4. What did the study actually find? Is it the same as what the article is claiming?
Does the social media post tell you that your ‘like’ or ‘share’ equals something?
For example: 'Like this post and $1 will be donated to a desperately poor family with 7 sick children'. This is one to be suspicious of, and could be fake. Ask yourself, where’s that dollar donation actually coming from? Who’s picking up the bill and why do they care whether or not you like the post? Is that desperately poor family even real? It could just be a dishonest ploy to make you like or share their post to attract more traffic to their page. Some of these are real, in which case it will be clear where the donation is coming from.
Use your gut instinct
As a general rule of thumb, if your gut tells you there's something suss about the story or article you’re reading, there probably is! Dig a little deeper, and do not trust everything you read. While there's a lot of fake news floating around, there is also a lot of credible information if you look in the right places. 
At Bupa, all our health content on The Blue Room website is checked by qualified and experienced dietitians, specialists or health care practitioners before it's published.
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