Tech Made Simple

Hot Topics: How to Fix Bluetooth Problems | How to Cut the Cable Cord | Best Fitness Trackers Under $50 | Complete Guide to Facebook Privacy

Use It

author photo

How to Spot Lies, Hoaxes and Misinformation Online

by on March 06, 2015
in Tips & How-Tos, Computers and Software, Computer Safety & Support, Facebook, Social Networking :: 4 comments

Woman with magnifying glassHow good are you at telling fact from fiction on the Internet? Admittedly, it can be difficult at times – there’s a lot of misinformation floating out there. Some sites and blogs routinely present opinion as fact to score quick political points. Others use misleading headlines to trick you into clicking and sharing content. Yet others will flat out lie to you, suggesting that goji berries, green coffee beans or some other “weird trick” will magically burn off 50 pounds of belly fat without you needing to exercise.

False and misleading information is a big enough problem online that search giant Google is taking action against it. New Scientist reported this past weekend that the company’s research arm has created an algorithm capable of determining the trustworthiness of websites. It works by fact checking sites against reputable sources like the CIA World Fact Book to get an overall read on how accurate its content is. If the site’s factual accuracy is low, Google’s algorithm would then downrank the site in search results.

This truth-sniffing program is only in the preliminary research phase. But without a doubt, there’s a real need for this kind of online fact checking assistance. In January 2014, satire news website The Daily Currant posted a story titled Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization. It wasn’t true, of course. Reputable news sources quickly identified it as a hoax. But the story still spread like wildfire on social networks, quickly racking up tens of thousands of Facebook Likes. It even tricked Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop, who referenced the Currant story as fact in testimony before the Maryland state legislature. “I remember the first day it was decriminalized there were 37 deaths,” he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, sealing his fate as a nationwide laughingstock.

Facebook has responded to this incident and others by letting people report news stories as fake or deceitful. If enough people report a story, the content is flagged with a warning stating “Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information.” It’s a helpful change. But for the most part, it’s still largely up to us readers of online content to figure out for ourselves what’s real and what’s not.

Fortunately, sniffing out the truth isn’t difficult once you know what telltale signs of dishonesty to look for. Here are some simple tips for detecting lies online:

  • If a story sounds too funny or weird to be true, it probably is. Always check the source of the news story – if it’s from The Onion, The Daily Currant or The Borowitz Report, the item is satire, not news. Both and are great sources for weeding out popular hoaxes and debunking false claims; reference them if necessary.
  • Be wary of stories from politically biased sources. Popularly shared websites ThinkProgress, Mother Jones and The Nation are all left-leaning; The Drudge Report, Newsmax and The Blaze are all right-wing sources. These outlets offer a massive dose of opinion with their news, potentially burying or ignoring facts that don’t support their worldview. If you’re not sure if you’re getting the whole story, and are great resources for fact-checking political claims you hear online and elsewhere.
  • Stay on guard for fake reviews on Yelp and Amazon. Some less-than-reputable businesses will post glowing reviews of their own establishments on Yelp or post negative reviews of their competitors. On Amazon, some authors may add glowing reviews of their own books. If a review sounds like marketing copy, it probably is. Christina DesMarais has a great article here on Techlicious titled How to Tell if a Review is Fake that you should check out for more information.
  • Look for confirmation elsewhere. Big news travels fast, especially on social media. But hoaxes travel fast, too. If major news is happening – say, the death of a celebrity – reputable news sources will quickly pick up the information. If you’re not sure whether something is true, check to see if CNN, The New York Times, the Associated Press or some other reliable news organization is reporting it. If you can’t find confirmation of the story elsewhere on the Internet, it’s probably not true.
  • Beware of the Green Dot Moneypak. Scam artists are incredibly fond of requesting payment via Green Dot Moneypaks and Western Union transfers because the transactions are incredibly hard to trace. Any request for a payment or refund via these methods should raise a huge, immediate red flag in your mind for fraud.
  • Online dating websites are hives of scum and villainy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to find love online, but know that many people take extreme liberties with their online dating profiles. Some people will even post other people’s pictures, pretending they are someone they’re not to gain attention or to pull a scam. If someone’s profile picture looks like a modeling shot, it probably is one. (You can run a picture through a reverse Google image search to find out for sure.) Be wary of people who avoid writing in the first person, warns Psychology Today – it’s a sign they may be distancing themselves from their own deceptive statements. And never send money to someone you’ve met on an online dating site, especially if you’ve never met them in person.

[Woman with magnifying glass via Shutterstock]

Discussion loading


Reverse Google image search

From S. Anderson on March 06, 2015 :: 1:11 pm

How do you Reverse Google image search? You mentioned this in today’s article.



I use reverse image search

From Suzanne Kantra on March 06, 2015 :: 1:17 pm

I use reverse image search all the time. It’s really useful!

Here are Google’s step-by-step directions

1. On any website, right-click an image and select Copy image URL.
2. Visit or click the camera icon camera icon in the search box on any Images results page.
3. Click Paste image URL.
4. Paste the URL you copied into the box.
5. Click Search by image.

Here’s a link to reverse image search on other devices:



False equivalency

From john papandrea on March 06, 2015 :: 2:42 pm

When it comes to facts, it is disingenuous to suggest tha ThinkProgress, Mother Jones and The Nation somehow represent equal and equivalent forces to The Drudge Report, Newsmax and The Blaze. The latter group are typically represented by screaming headlines hoping to play upon the fears of their readers. Additionally, the amount of advertising associated with these sites - particularly self-indulging and fear based such as ‘buy gold’ renders them far from reliable.



Are you kidding me?

From Renzo Beybe on March 06, 2015 :: 11:50 pm

Talking about organizations that “outlets (that)offer a massive dose of opinion with their news, (especially those) potentially burying or ignoring facts that don’t support their worldview”, read Sharyl Attkisson’s book “Stonewalled”. By her telling, and she emminently credible, the bulk of the main stream media falls under that category of those “burying or ignoring facts”. Her story is compelling and seems irrefutable. She is a well-repected journalist from CBS for goodness sake. Talking about the right-leaning media (many of whom are not news organizations but opinion reporters) can only be signs of your willingness to “bury or ignore the facts” because they don’t agree with your world view.


© 2015 Techlicious LLC. Home | About | Meet the Team | Sponsorship Opportunities | Newsletter Archive | Contact Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy

site design: Juxtaprose