Fact-checking organizations seek to help local journalists, news organizations and everyday citizens navigate the slippery world of online misinformation. Some tips:
— Don't make the problem worse. Be aware that reporting on a false claim, or re-posting it, can amplify it. That allows misinformation to spread faster and reach more people. If you do write about the topic, make sure you note clearly what is misleading about the claim.
— Some bad actors approach reporters with false information they claim was leaked, hoping they will spread it for them. Take the time to verify claims with multiple sources before rushing to publish.
— Find out more about the website, publication or social media user posting the content in question. Do they acknowledge a partisan perspective? Do they use bylines on stories? Do they tend to cover only one kind of story — crime or immigration, for instance? Read the “About Us” section of the website to learn where the publication is based, how long it's been around and who owns it.
— On social media, be aware of profile pictures or user names that seem fake. Impostors can pose as famous figures, or pluck profile photos from other websites. Social media searches for the real account or reverse image searches on the internet can help spot that trick.
— Be suspicious of odd website addresses that appear to mimic legitimate sources. Grammatical errors, odd punctuation and even unneeded capital letters can be a tip-off that the story masquerading as a real news story was created by internet scammers. Also be wary of old photos being reused to make it appear that something that happened in the past is a recent event.
— If you're wondering about a specific claim, check other sources to see if it's been more widely reported. If there is a major news development, legitimate news organizations will soon chase it down.
— Use critical thinking. Remember that just because a headline, post or website is popular with your friends or seems to support your opinion, that doesn't mean it's accurate. Check it out with independent news sources. Be especially suspicious of content that elicits strong emotions, since it might have been intentionally designed to go viral.
— Read the work being done by legitimate news organizations and the growing number of reputable, independent fact-checking organizations. They include APFactCheck, FactCheck.org, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), PolitiFact.com, the Reporters' Lab at Duke University, the American Press Institute and Snopes.com. Many of them publish their own fact-checks and offer tips and resources for reporters and citizens alike.