How to avoid fake news & hoaxes

The dangers of misinformation & how to outsmart fake news


The amount of misinformation that is spread on the web is staggering. It is spread mainly via Websites, Social Networks, and Email. The Hot Topics for such misinformation are Politics, Government Policies, Religion and various Scams and Hoaxes. Research reveals false rumors really do travel faster and further than the truth. What is important to understand is that sharing misinformation can lead to fraudulent web sites and malware.

Social networking sites provide users with the capabilities to spread information quickly to other users without confirmation of its truth. We tend to take written information as truth and assume it is accurate unless we know for certain that it is not. If we read something about a subject which we are not very knowledgeable about, we assume that the author has the credentials to be posting that information.

Malware from clickbait

The real trouble is that clickbait is often more than just a simple insult to our intelligence - it can lead to real trouble like malware and scams that can lead to identity theft or monetary loses. Often times clicking on a seemingly harmless article will lead you to nothing more than a useless pop-up for a fake video player or a fake survey, no article in sight. But if you click the link and download the player or fill in the survey, you'll wind up with a PC full of malware and viruses.

Prevention Tips:

Be cautious: Approach sharing and opening posts from friends as cautiously as you would your emails. Social media can be a wonderful tool but it can be really dangerous as well and it's beyond important to keep that in perspective. Another good piece of advice is to never trust the links, especially those clickbait ones.

Be careful closing pop-ups: Closing a POP-UP by clicking the X can inadvertently share the malicious code without your knowledge. This is why most people that shared it say they never clicked on anything suspicious.

Here are some options in closing a POP-UP:

  • Chrome on Windows or Mac: Shift + Esc, select the tab containing the pop-up, then click "End Process".
  • Windows: Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc, select the web browser, then click "End Task."
  • Mac: Command + Option + Esc, select your web browser, then click "Force Quit."
  • Android: Press the square button at the bottom right corner of the screen, then swipe all browser windows off the screen.
  • iPhone: Double-press the home button (if you're using iPhone 6s, 3D Touch press the left side of the screen), then swipe all instances of the browser off the screen.

Another option: Since the popup is controlled by JavaScript, the best option is to disable the execution of any scripts (by configuration or browser add-ons). This will impact how most websites look and feel, however you can always add sites to the exception list once you know they are safe.

The dangers of misinformation

We tend to take written information as truth and assume it is accurate unless we know for certain that it is not. If we read something about a subject which we are not very knowledgeable about, we assume that the author has the credentials to be posting that information.

  • Misinformation regarding drugs and health remedies have proven deadly for many people around the world.
  • Misinformation through sharing emails or social media spam can expose you to fraudulent phishing web sites.
  • Misinformation regarding investment advice has lead to personal financial losses.

Tips for analyzing news sources

  • Avoid websites that end in "lo" ex: Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading "facts" (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
  • Watch out for websites that end in ".com.co" as they are often fake versions of real news sources
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the "About Us" tab on websites or look up the website on sites like Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you're looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • If the story makes you really angry it's probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn't purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
  • If the website you're reading encourages you to DOX (researching and broadcasting private or identifiable information about an individual or organization), it's unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.
  • It's always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints.

There is a role everyone should play in stopping the spread of rumors and hoaxes. Misinformation and misleading or incorrect figures when presented as facts and repeated frequently should be refuted before they become accepted as genuine and used to promote specific agendas or spread malware.

To help you determine if something is fact or fiction, simply paste the text of a story or post in the box below. The results will help you determine whether the topic being discussed is true or just a rumor.