Anyone who uses social media understands that there are plenty of fake news stories out there. They usually come from satirical news sites offering articles for amusement, although the same material can also take the form of social commentary disguised as satire. One of the first examples was The Onion, although The Babylon Bee is immensely popular among Christians.

The World News Daily Report does have a disclaimer on its site, as well as a banner with a small caption that says, “Where facts don’t matter.” Most people can recognize the articles on these sites as satirical quickly (at least, we hope they can).

Social networks serve as funnels for fake news and false information, which has become a massively profitable industry. In spite of efforts to crack down on these sites, they still generate millions of dollars in ad revenue. The creators of these sites either do not seem to think they are doing anything wrong, or don’t care.

Some go so far as to produce fake news with the intent of embarrassing those who share it.  They usually don’t want their faces shown and consistently refuse to speak with journalists. CNN produced an eye-opening story about fake political news sites.[1]

Fake news articles get hundreds of thousands of likes and generate massive amounts of revenue. While the juiciest articles are usually political, many are religious. And these pieces do get liked and shared on Facebook and through other social media avenues. These absurd stories include the discovery of the remains of the Egyptian army from the biblical exodus[2], an admission that the Smithsonian destroyed thousands of giant human skeletons[3], and claims from a top Egyptologist that dinosaurs helped build the pyramids.[4]

These stories should fool no one, yet many people like and share them on Facebook. So, how do you determine whether an article is fake or not, especially when some of their authors take pains to make them as believable as possible? Here are some tips:

  1. Take the time to read the article. Many people uncritically hit the like and share buttons before reading the article. This is the “original sin” of sharing fake news.
  2. Determine what news outlet published the article. Some websites have sections confessing that their material is meant as satire. Others may require more in-depth investigative efforts on the part of the reader.
  3. Look into the author’s background and credentials. If an author has a history of writing satire or outright hoaxes, they shouldn’t receive the benefit of the doubt. If the author’s credentials cannot be discovered, it may be a fake author.
  4. Look closely at the photos accompanying the piece. Authors can doctor photos easily. Some of them are better than others, but many times an eagle-eyed reader can spot an altered image. Some may copy unrelated photos from other websites. One example of the latter is a picture of divers with a human skull that accompanied an article about the discovery of the drowned Egyptian army from the exodus. The photo was taken from a 2014 National Geographic article about a human skeleton found in a flooded cave in Mexico.[5]
  5. Watch out for confirmation bias. We all have the natural inclination to want validation from outside sources for our opinions and beliefs. If we aren’t careful, we can allow it to override our good judgment. But just as importantly, authors of fake news understand this tendency and will use it to prey upon readers.
  6. See what other news outlets are reporting the event. If no one else is reporting the story, or if major news outlets aren’t reporting it, this is a good sign that it could be fake.
  7. Carefully consider all of the above before you share the story on social media.

Some fake news stories have real-world consequences that can take years to resolve. These kinds of stories about the Bible don’t have such disastrous effects, but they can make Christians look foolish. In a skeptical world filled with false information, we have to do our best to ensure that we present the gospel message clearly, powerfully, and with conviction—and avoid doing anything that might undermine those efforts.

[1] https://money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/.

[2] No author, “Red Sea: Archaeologists Discover Remains of Egyptian Army from the Biblical Exodus,” World News Daily Report. https://worldnewsdailyreport.com/red-sea-archaeologists-discover-remains-of-egyptian-army-from-the-biblical-exodus/.

[3] No author, “Smithsonian Admits to Destruction of Thousands of Giant Human Skeletons in Early 1900’s,” World News Daily Report. https://worldnewsdailyreport.com/smithsonian-admits-to-destruction-of-thousands-of-giant-human-skeletons-in-early-1900s/.

[4] No author, “Pyramids Were Built with Help from Dinosaurs, Claims Top Egyptologist,” World News Daily Report. https://worldnewsdailyreport.com/pyramids-were-built-with-help-from-dinosaurs-claims-top-egyptologist/.

[5] Associated Press, “False Story says archaeologists Unearth Exodus Evidence,” Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2018-03-false-story-archaeologists-unearth-exodus.html?fbclid=IwAR35mPd2QyH2AoctVMxTGSxPWm4AE83_rQl0KRrUAY5esyV1qqU9cTCbLFg.