CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Best Black Friday 2020 deals PS5 restock Xbox Series X in stock HomePod Mini vs. Echo Dot vs. Nest Mini Tile Black Friday Best Amazon Black Friday deals Best Black Friday Apple deals

This simple Google trick can help you sniff out fake news and scams

You can use a search tool on your phone or desktop in a clever way to separate fact from fiction -- before you share a link or meme.

Listen
- 03:33
debunked-illustration-article-3

Use a reverse Google Image search to check if the image in a meme actually comes from a different event altogether.

Brett Pearce/CNET

A meme that spread online last week falsely claimed that a vendor sold Nazi and Confederate flags at the Million MAGA March in Washington, DC, where Trump supporters gathered on Saturday. But it isn't true. The vendor was actually spotted at a Pennsylvania flea market in September, and the market organizers reportedly told him to put the flags away

Memes like this -- usually featuring a political message framing a compelling image -- often turn out to be misleading or downright false. Typically, a photo from a different event has been paired with a description of something that didn't happen or lacks context.

Luckily, there's a trick that can help you find out if this is happening, and let you locate the original source of the image. It's called a reverse image search. It's easy to do, and it might just make you feel like a brilliant detective. 

It isn't just useful for fake news. A reverse image search can also help you detect scams on dating or real estate websites. That'll help you spot a catfisher who's using someone else's photos to lure you into a relationship under false pretenses (they'll likely eventually ask you for money or gifts, but sometimes they just play odd pranks). It'll also keep you from handing over personal information to scammers pretending to rent out a property they don't own.

cybersecurity-hacking-7

A quick drag and drop can help you separate fact from fiction.

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

How to run a reverse image search

The Million MAGA March meme was debunked by Snopes. But the website, which fact-checks news stories, rumors and memes that fly around the internet, can't get to everything. If you look up your story on Snopes and can't find it, it's time to open up Google. 

There are a few options for how to do a reverse image search. First, open Google Images in your Safari, Firefox or Chrome web browser.

Option 1: Click on the image and hold down. Then drag it to the Google Images search field in another window.

Option 2: Take a screenshot of the image and drag that file into the search field. (You can also upload the file from the Google Images search bar, if you prefer.)

Option 3: Right click on the image and select "open image in another window." Copy the URL and then paste into the Google Images search field. 

Option 4: If you're using Chrome, right-click on the image and select, "search Google for image."

The results will tell you what other contexts the photo has appeared in. That'll help you spot multiple postings trying to sell the same object (like this pig chair, which isn't for sale but has appeared repeatedly on Craigslist). It'll also help you spot duplicate real estate listings, which may not have been posted by the same people.

How to run a reverse image search on your phone

For the quickest and most readable results, you'll want to be on a desktop web browser to run a reverse image search. The same search just isn't as straightforward to pull off on mobile. These are the simplest approaches you can try: 

Option 1: On the mobile Chrome browser, you can hold down on an image and then select "search Google for this image."

Option 2: Hold down on the photo in your mobile browser and select the option that lets you copy the photo ("copy" or "copy URL," for example). That puts the photo's URL onto your clipboard. Then paste the URL in the Google Images search bar.

You can also use the Google app, which lets you upload or take pictures of images. However, CNET found the results to be very spotty when trying to find the origin of a photo.

What to do about fake or misleading posts

You can report a misleading or false meme to the social media platform you found it on. You can also report scam dating profiles, bogus ads and fake rental listings to the websites where they're hosted. Steps for reporting the posts will be different for each website.

You can also let people know they've posted a misleading meme. The outcome will of course vary. Nonetheless, you now know how to debunk fake news right at the Thanksgiving dinner table. How you choose to handle your powers is up to you.