How to be an expert fact-checker
Professional fact-checkers—people who make sure newspaper articles and magazine stories are correct before they're published—say that looking beyond the story is the real secret to finding the truth. Use these truth-telling tips to know if what you're reading is for real.
Search the exact headline.
Type the exact same title of the story into a search engine. If the story isn’t real, websites may pop up right away that call it out as fake.
LOOK FOR OTHER ARTICLES ON THE SAME TOPIC.
Big news stories will be covered by most major news organizations. If a story seems hard to believe, and it only pops up in one or two places, that’s a warning sign that something’s wrong.
CHECK THE DATE.
Is this a new story, or did it happen a long time ago? If it isn’t current, the information may be incorrect or just out of date.
SEE IF IT’S A KNOWN HOAX.
Many websites are dedicated to snuffing out incorrect stories and urban legends (myths that everyone thinks are true). If a story sounds suspicious, ask an adult to help you look it up on a site that specializes in finding hoaxes, such as Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, FactCheck.org, or Hoax-Slayer.net.
DOUBLE-CHECK THE EXPERTS.
Search the experts quoted in the story to learn more about the organizations they represent. Are the experts qualified to speak about the topic? Do the organizations they work for represent a certain point of view? And if so, are experts with differing points of view included in the story? If the article is one-sided, that’s a sign of potentially biased reporting.
GO STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE.
A reliable news story should say where all the facts came from. Search the internet to look for the organizations behind the facts. Do they have a particular bias? For example, if an organization that represents peanut growers is behind a study about the health benefits of peanut butter, you know the goal is to sell more peanut butter.
Many social media sites confirm the real accounts of famous people or well-known organizations. Look for check marks, icons, or even special emojis next to the account names that show they have been verified. Some fake social media accounts will try to trick people with similar marks elsewhere on the page. If it’s not right next to the account name, it’s probably a phony.
Social media is designed to keep you on the site. If you think something’s fishy about a story, leave the social media site and look up the story on a search engine to look for other sources. Also try searching in a new browser or clearing your history, so your search history can’t follow you.
BE A SEARCH ENGINE GENIUS.
The first websites that pop up in internet searches are often ads. Sometimes these are marked as ads; sometimes they aren’t. Before you click, scan at least the first two pages of results and read the few lines of description underneath each link. Click on the website of an organization that you recognize or that seems most expert on the subject you are researching.
From the Nat Geo Kids book Breaking the News: What's Real, What's Not, and Why the Difference Matters by Robin Terry, revised for digital by Laura Goertzel