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I saw it on Social Media!

Fake news stories proliferated on social media during the 2016 Presidential Election, with users sharing more fake news articles—created by individuals and organizations seeking to mislead the public for financial or political gain—than legitimate ones.

Social media platforms cultivate complex relationships with their users, who are both creators and consumers of content. Add integrated advertising (like sponsored posts) into the mix, and it can be daunting to figure out what's true.


Image Abraham Lincoln "Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it." Accessed 20 May 2021.

Image Albert Einstein "Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it." Accessed 20 May 2021.

Question mark   What is the relationship between social media and fake news?

  Checkmark Fake news spreads through sharing links on social media by individuals. Always verify and evaluate articles before posting.

Think before you link

Checkmark   Fake news is spread through fake social media accounts powered by social bots.

Question mark   What is a bot? How do bots influence social media?

A social bot is a computer algorithm that is programmed to produce content and interact with humans on social media, aiming to mimic and influence human behavior. Bots are deployed in helpful ways to automate a range of business functions, and deployed in harmful ways when they increase the dissemination of false information.

Adapted from: Emilio Ferrara, et al. "The Rise of Social Bots." Communications Of The ACM 59, No. 7 (July 2016): 96-104.

Question mark   How do I spot a bot on social media?

Look for the following 3 identifiers:

Frequency: How often does the account in question post? How much does it post? How regularly? Is there a pattern? Is the volume of content posted beyond human capability?

Content: Can this account properly interact when contacted directly? Is the content posted consistent? Does it make sense semantically?

Social network analysis: Does this account have a diverse set of network connections? What does the network look like visualized on a map? Does this account look like it is only following other bots? Does this account interact in conversation from the margins or from the center?

Adapted from: Samuel C. Woolley, "Resource for Understanding Political Bots." A Project on Algorithms, Computational Propaganda, and Digital Politics. Last accessed on June 9, 2017.

Question mark   How do you know if the content you see on Facebook or Twitter is advertising?

Look for clues!

Facebook marks posts generated through advertising and inserted into your news feed as "sponsored" with this marker:

Facebook will mark additional advertising content filtered to you through algorithms with the word SPONSORED located above it.

Twitter marks its advertising content as "Promoted Tweets." Look for the icons below marking promoted content at the top or bottom of tweets:

Question mark   Is all sponsored or promoted content filtered to you through social media intentionally false or misleading?

It's a mixed bag. It's up to you to think critically and decide for yourself. Either way, being able to identify content as advertising rather than journalism is necessary to making an informed decision.

Newspaper and magnifying glass with Facebook logo and the phrase Tips for spotting false news

Caution triangle 

While Facebook may offer the option to report fake news stories and provide a list of tips to identify fake news, we advise that you consult sources beyond Facebook for fact-checking.

Detour sign

Check mark Professional fact-checkers read laterally, meaning they initiate a new search on a separate screen to research the content of an article or website. They look beyond what is stated on "About" pages and ignore the placement of articles in search results as evidence that the top results are the best results. Fact-checking is an active process that should engage multiple sources before arriving at a decision about the reliability of news information. Therefore, it is in your best interest to move beyond Facebook when evaluating information found there.

Adapted from: Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew. "Why Students Can't Google Their Way to the Truth." Education Week, November 1, 2016, 22-28

Public Figures on Social Media

Screenshot of the Twitter account of Pope Francis. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Twitter account has been verified.

When it comes to citing Tweets from public figures, make sure that you are citing from a verified Twitter account. The blue badge icon to the right marks verified Twitter accounts. You can learn more about Twitter verification here.

Facebook profile for Oprah Winfrey. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Facebook account has been verified.

Facebook uses similar badges to mark verified accounts.