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Evaluating False News and Misinformation

This Research Guide aims to discuss what False News is. It also shares tools and resources for evaluating False News.

Quick Tips for Checking Social Media Posts


(Shared by Cindy Otis, author of True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News, at

Bot or Not? Evaluating Legitimacy of Social Media Accounts

Check the Profile Photo

  • Be wary of "blank" profiles using the default:
  • Is the account using a "selfie" as an avatar? Use Google Image Search's "Reverse Image Search" or TinEye to see if it has been posted elsewhere.
  • Are they using art other than their picture? Check how it relates to their account activity or bio.

Examine the User Name

  • Is there a series of numbers following the name? Do the numbers start at an odd cut-off point (such as matth8365845 versus matthew8365845)?
    • Note: some users choose to use the default assigned user name.
  • What about superfluous punctuation (i.e., not needed to differentiate from an official vs. an impersonator)? Underscores, dashes, etc.
  • Look even closer; sometimes an upper-case "i" is actually a lower-case "L," or an "n" is actually an "m."
    • Tip: copy/paste into a Word document, then change to a serif font like Times New Roman.

Look at their Followers, Following, and Suggested Follows

  • What is their follower/following ratio?
  • WHO do they follow? Is there a disproportionate number of one type?
  • Did they all follow at once?
  • What accounts are they suggesting you follow?
  • Posting habits:
    • Do they tend to auto-post a lot of content? This could be flagged for "bot" behavior.
    • Check "Tweets and Replies." Do they comment with commentary, jokes, answers or questions? Or just one-word answers like "nice" or "great?"
    • Examine posting history for consistency.

Note on "Twitter-Verified" Accounts: Twitter used to verify accounts for media organizations, non-profits, celebrities, and other public figures and outlets,so readers would know the account was "real" and not a parody/impersonation. These accounts would be indicated by a blue check mark. The blue check mark program is now part of the paid-level "Twitter Blue" service, or is on by default for accounts with over one million followers. Blue Checks are no longer considered a reliable tool for account authentication. There are two other levels of verified accounts:

  • Gold Checkmarks: official business account through Twitter Verified Organizations (these are also distinct via a square profile picture)
  • Grey Checkmarks: Government/multilateral organizations or officials at national, state, and local levels.

Bot Sentinel: This tool analyzes and scores Twitter accounts, ranking them as Normal, Questionable, Disruptive, or Problematic.


This quiz, created by Clemson University Media Forensics Hub, takes you through eight actual social media profiles...can you spot the troll?


How and Why Do Tweets Trend?

Volume combined with time; Twitter's algorithm favors high volume within a short period.

Engagement: when someone clicks anywhere on a tweet, this is measured, and can include retweets, replies, and likes, plus the following:

  • Did someone follow you based on clicking "follow" in your tweet?
  • Did someone click on a link in your tweet?
  • Did they click on a photo or hashtag? Play an embedded video?

Beware of the RATIO! The ratio on Twitter is the comparison of replies, retweets, and likes.

  • Generally a "bad ratio" is 2:1 or more replies to retweets/likes.
  • This is a sign the tweet was controversial and enough people objected to it (and felt strongly enough) to respond.
    • There is no "dislike" option on Twitter, so the only other recourse to register disagreement is to comment/reply to the Tweet.
  • Replies (even negative ones) still = engagement and contribute to trends.


(Pssst...this is a BAD ratio!)