Cute puppies drowning in a river? Prince William and Kate Middleton heading towards a divorce? When headlines like these pop up on your social media feed, it's wise to take a moment to reflect before liking or sharing them.
According to the German computer magazine c't, users should suppress the impulse to click and spend at least a couple of minutes trying to verify the authenticity of the claims being made.
If you've never heard of the news source, take a moment to check if it actually exists. Look for the company registration details on the site.
A brand-new homepage could be a red flag for a fake news site. You can find the date that the site was created at the following link. Users should also beware of satirical sites posing as real news outlets, such as World News Daily Report.
Has the message come directly from an individual or company? If the account has been verified by Facebook and Twitter, a blue badge with a white check mark should appear next to the name.
If the account has not been verified, take some time to scrutinise the profile. How many friends does the person have? What kind of friends? Does the user make an unusually large number of posts on a very specific theme, and is the account exclusively linked to similar account.
If so, you could be dealing with an Internet bot – a computer program running automated tasks, and duping you into believing it is a real human. A quick look at the person's or company's website, if it has been provided, could help to gauge the profile's authenticity.
Facebook users can modify headlines and straplines to mislead users about the actual content of the news. Images and videos can also be posted completely out of context.
One tip: reverse-search for the image on Google or TinEye to find out where the exact file, or similar versions of it, appears online. Another alternative is to search for keywords on http://hoaxsearch.com, a service provided by the not-for-profit Mimikama. The search will identify flagged phrases that have appeared on Twitter, WhatsApp or other social media channels.
So who spreads such misleading news? "These are conspiracy theorists or highly active radicalised groups, who want to push their political agenda," according to c't editor Jo Bager.
Others just want to profit from human intrigue and outrage: they are hedging their bets on some oblivious reader clicking on the fake news and landing on their website, where advertisements will bring them money.— dpa