Beware: That may be a fake news site you’re quoting

If you spend much time on the Internet, you know it’s filled with people who think news is funny. Or perhaps I should say that they think things that appear to be news are funny.

The Onion actually knew this before the Internet, and anyone who’s ever read a real headline with the phrase “area man” in it can appreciate the humor of the Onion.

Of course, the problem is there are a lot of fake news sites that don’t seem so much like humor and read more like real news. These sites have fooled some fairly sophisticated news organizations and people — like The New York Times and now CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who didn’t realize that Clickhole is part of the Onion media complex.

Cooper’s follow-up tweet contains good advice, advice I’ve offered in conferences sessions this spring at both the American Copy Editor’s Society conference and the Midwest Journalism Conference: Know the source of your information.

You may ask, if Anderson Cooper can’t keep up with the fake news websites, how can I?

Here are three tips:

1. Make the About page of any website your friend. (Sometimes you have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to find it.)

The About Us page for the Daily Currant clearly says “The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper …” Even the Onion’s About Us page, which doesn’t acknowledge in its opening that the site is satirical, offers clues — (“The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world”) and admits it is satire in its FAQ section.

2. Develop a list of trusted websites, and when you feel like linking to or quoting information from outside that list, make sure you can find the information on multiple sites. Think of it as the equivalent of needing a second source in reporting.

3. Educate yourself. Look for seminars from groups like ACES and state press associations; ask those groups to offer training; read journalism sites like Poynter.org, CJR.org and other trusted media blogs to keep up with the constantly changing media world. Fake news sites are a bit like pop-up restaurants — they appear at a moment’s notice.

And finally, don’t believe everything you see on Facebook (or any social media). Be a skeptical editor. Verify, verify, verify.