Avoid stumbling onto Facebook users' fake news radar

Pippa Adams, CEO
Pippa Adams, CEO
07 / 04 / 2017 | Prodo Insights

Fake news has exploded in the ‘Era of Trump’ – now Facebook has published a guide for users of the platform to help them recognise false reports.

But these 10 general tips for spotting fake news could trip up marketers who are careless with their content. Let’s look at the tips and explore how you can avoid your social marketing being branded ‘fake news’ by Facebook users.

1: Be sceptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines all in caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.

This is the first banana skin for marketers. If you want to grab attention, of course you’ll want to phrase your message in an eye-catching way to encourage engagement.

But with users being encouraged to be wary, you need to take a step back and look again at your title before you post content or ads. Will toning the headline down a little really do much damage to the engagement or outcome, or is there alternative language you can use? And beware of unnecessary punctuation!

2: Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site and compare the URL to established sources.

For most marketers this won’t be an issue, however if you’re running a campaign with a bespoke microsite and its own URL, it’s important to make sure the address doesn’t look so similar to another that it’s attempting to mimic it, otherwise you could find yourself accidentally in the ‘fake news’ camp.

3: Investigate the source. Ensure that the story’s written by a source you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organisation, check its “About” section to learn more.

If you fall foul of this one you need to go to a quiet place and have a word with yourself! Your digital assets and website should be consistent, up-to-date, well populated and verified in all the standard ways so that when people do click through and visit, there’s nothing that rings an alarm bell with them.

4: Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.

It’s more common than you would think for wonky formatting and misspellings to sneak through into live content. Check, double check and get someone else to check too before you make anything live and you’ll neatly skirt this crack in the pavement.

5: Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.

Original photography and videos are always best. If they’re not available, take care when accessing stock photography and always ensure you give the correct accreditation or have the right licenses to use images and videos or you could find yourself raising unnecessary suspicions. Use a reverse image search to check the picture’s origin if you’re in any doubt.

6: Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.

Marketers don’t really need to worry about this point – unless you’re in the habit of posting about events on totally false dates, in which case STOP!

7: Check the evidence. Check the author's sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.

Citations, links to stats you use, expert input appropriately credited: these are all basics but not everyone always plays by the rules. If the Facebook community is going to start scrutinising you and you’re guilty of failing on any of these things, it’s probably a good time to rectify that before the backlash begins.

8: Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it's more likely to be true.

On the face of it this is a tough one, because often marketers publish content on behalf of clients before it appears elsewhere. However, by publishing related content, such as blogs, in appropriate places (for example, the blog page of your website) and linking to them, you can add credibility and swerve any problems.

9: Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humour or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story's details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.

Recently we posted an April Fool that fell into this category. It was just for fun but could have been read as a serious news story at a glance. The key is balance and common sense. If you publish fun content that you want to fool people, then be clever. Give them clues it’s false and know when to publish a reveal. Believe us, sometimes a follow-up piece spelling it out is definitely the right thing to do to avoid drama!

10: Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.

This one is out of our hands, unfortunately. We hope Facebook users don’t become very wary and only share really hard news stories, but in reality it’s unlikely they will. Fun stuff, light-hearted content, the weird and wonderful things that are only appropriate for social will still find an audience here. You just need to take a little more care over the basics now to avoid the ‘fake news’ label.