Website evaluation — Spotting Fake News


“Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

— Mrs. Weasley, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

Mrs. Weasley’s warning can apply to websites as well as it applies to magical objects.  Identifying a website’s “brain” will help to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a website’s information.

Follow these guidelines to determine a website’s validity.   These analyses are critical in deciding whether a site is authoritative enough to utilize as an authoritative source.

Start with Domains

The last part of a website, the domain, tells you something about who sponsors that website and gives clues about its validity.  Here are common domains:

Domain Who owns it? Could I trust it?


United States government website

Yes.  US Gov’t sitesveryreliable


Education website Yes, but determine author’s credentials: Faculty? Staff? Student?


Organizational author Maybe.  Watch for bias



For-profit author Be careful.  Profit goals may bias results

International website Maybe, depending on website purpose


Private owner renting server space Not usually.  Sites are often personal projects


US Military website Yes. Government funded

More Tips

Contact Information.  Contact information should be easy to find on a website.  If it’s not, beware!  A website with no contact information is often not credible.

Website Purpose. The site’s purpose should be easy to find and clearly stated.

Language.  Grammatical errors, typographical errors, word choice, and tone all assist in evaluating websites.


Spotting Fake News

Website Extras. Check for “co” or “lo” incorporated in the website  These are usually fake sites, often mimicking an actual site.

Tone. Be suspicious of extreme statements, explanation points, or wording that evokes strong anger or agreement.

“Clickbate.” Be suspicious of a site containing catchy headlines that try to get readers to click.  These sites may have legitimate information interspersed with less reliable information.

Content.  Compare the content of a suspicious site against established news sources such as the New York Times, CNN, or Washington Post.  Be suspicious if only the questionable site is reporting it, or if other questionable sites are reporting the story.

For more more information, check False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources
Site #1 Site #2 Site #3


Search Tips

Limiting by domain. Type site:gov with search terms to retrieve sites from a specific domain, government websites in this case.

Limiting a domain.  Type -site:com with search terms to retrieve sites other than a specific domain, commercial websites in this case.

Phrase searching.  Type quotes around words to search them together as phrase: “united states”

Google Scholar Google Scholar is a part of Google that retrieves more reliable information, though you must evaluate all websites regardless of origin.


Practice #1

Compare these two websites.  Are they reliable enough for you to use as a source?  Please list 2 reasons why/why not for each site.

Saint Francis Hospital

Dwayne Medical Center

Practice #2

Compare these two websites.  Are they reliable enough for you to use as a source?  Please list 2 reasons why/why not for each site.  Pay particular attention to the contributors to the site and their credentials.

National Resource Defense Council

Institute for Energy Research

Practice #3

Save the Tree Octopus!

Save the Rhino!


Site #1

Site #2

Site #3