Navigating through made-up, misleading or “fake” news online can be difficult, especially in today’s politically-charged climate.
At its core, the internet is a collaborative tool open to all, but this ability to share information so freely can quickly develop into a wasteland of content as people share their personal perspectives on everything from Russia to the romantic lives of our favorite celebrities.
While one’s distinction of what constitutes “news” is subjective, there are a few telltale signs within how the internet works that can make it easier to find trustworthy sources. Here are a few tips to help you identify whether an online source might be posing as a news source to harvest your clicks:
1. Confirm the validity of the source
First, you’ll want to learn more about the news source to determine if it is a reputable website, and if it’s a news organization you should personally trust. Reputable news organizations commit to transparency around the information they share, including where information came from. You can look to the logo, branding or the “about” section of a news source to help determine if you’ve landed on a site that aims to provide trustworthy information. If you’re reading information on a lesser-known website, look within the article for multiple quotes from people representing known institutions or organizations, or facts and figures that can be attributed to a credible third party, like a government agency or educational institution.
You’ll also want confirm that the website you’re referencing is up to date. If you find yourself accessing a website that’s dated back to 2012 at the bottom of the webpage, then that’s your sign that the source is either no longer accurate or working properly.
2. Double check online identities
If you’re unsure about the validity of a source after looking into the above, another way to confirm credibility is through the site’s URL and domain. And no, these two things are not the same.
A domain name includes the site name and the official top-level domain string (the letters to the right of the last dot). For example, the domain name for the United Nations is www.un.org, which indicates you’re on the United Nations website on the .org domain. You’ll want to make sure the domain name matches the source and website you want to be on and that the top-level domain is one you are familiar with, such as .org, .gov, and .edu. Top-level domains with strong anti-abuse policies and a reputation for trustworthiness are helpful indicators that a site is credible.
You can then investigate further through examining the URL (uniform resource locator), which includes more information after the top-level domain indicator to help you understand where on the website you are. For example, you’ll find breaking humanitarian news on the United Nation’s website through the UN News Centre, which is located at www.un.org/News and a specific article you might read there will include an additional unique string of characters after the “/News” indicator. You’ll be able to see the shorter domain name and longer URL for any online source in the address bar of your internet browser. If the URL has a strange ending, then that should be a red flag. Whenever you move from website to website on the internet, it’s always smart to double check that the domain name and URL match where you thought you were going.
3. Check for a secure connection
Another consideration in validating a website is its security. While you may not be making a purchase, a website that actively practices security measures is taking itself seriously, and indicates that you can as well. Identifying a secure connection should also make you feel more comfortable if you decide to subscribe to a newsletter. For example, websites that operate with a secure connection apply for a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate that validates that their content – and any personal information you provide – is protected by an extra layer of encryption from hackers and identity thieves. A website with this layer of security has a URL beginning with "https." During the process of being directed to a website, your internet browser of choice will work behind the scenes to verify the website has an SSL certificate the browser trusts. If the site poses risks around your visit, the browser will typically alert you and this should be considered a sign the information on the website might be suspect.
4. Investigate social media posts before clicking
If you tend to reference social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as your main news sources, be very cautious! It’s very easy for social media posts to mislead the true content of an article by crafting a news-like headline to grab your attention. While some of the stories circulating your newsfeed pull at your heartstrings, others may lead you down a rabbit hole of misinformation. Before you click, check to see if the account associated with the post is a verified one or locate a URL listed in the post content to determine the news source and domain.
By understanding a few key internet facts and following the above steps, it can be easy to move away from “fake” news to trustworthy sources of information online.
Brian Cute is CEO of Public Interest Registry, a nonprofit organization that operates the .org top-level domain — the world's third largest "generic" top-level domain with more than 10.4 million domain names registered worldwide. As an advocate for collaboration, safety and security on the internet, Public Interest Registry's mission is to educate and enable the global noncommercial community to use the internet more effectively, and to take a leadership position among internet stakeholders on policy and other issues relating to the domain naming system. Connect with Cute on LinkedIn or Twitter at @BrianForGood.