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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: How to spot fake screenshots on social media

November 17, 2022



Fake social media generator websites have made it easy to impersonate a person or business and spread misinformation. Fake social media screenshots look like the real McCoy, but there are a few clues that can help identify fakes if you find yourself asking “Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?” while on social media.

Students will learn four clues that a social media screenshot might be fake and use some online tools that can help verify them — and then put those skills to the test.


Students will learn four clues that help identify fake social media screenshots. Students will be able to explain why posts that impersonate people or organizations make them more likely to spread misinformation. Students will then put these fact-checking techniques to the test. Students will be able to answer the following questions:

  • Why do social media posts that impersonate people or organizations spread misinformation?
  • What clues can help identify a fake social media screenshot?
  • Can I list the similarities and differences between fake and real social media posts?

This lesson was developed by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs in partnership with MediaWise and the Teen Fact-Checking Network, which are part of the Poynter Institute. This partnership has been made possible with support from Google.


Students will be able to:

  • Explain why social media posts that impersonate people or organizations spread misinformation.
  • Distinguish between fake and real social media screenshots.


media literacy, social studies, language arts, journalism

Estimated Time

45 – 60 minutes

Full Lesson



Dubawa’s How to identify fake social media screenshots

Activator  (5 minutes)

Display this tweet or a similar one. Ask students if they notice anything odd about this tweet.

  1. Pepsi would never say that
  2. @PEPICO =/ @PEPSI
  3. White check-mark
  4. No “official” designation

Explain that social media generator apps and websites have made it easy to create fake screenshots to impersonate an individual or organization online to spread misinformation. This is an example that happened when Elon Musk briefly instituted the $8 checkmark program. Although this one is Satire and easier to identify, many others are not.

Acquisition (15 minutes)

Activator: How can you check a social media screenshot to verify its source?

This tweet — seemingly from a well-known news organization’s social media account  — creates a strong emotional response that makes it more likely people will share it out of shock. That’s exactly when you need to check it out.

1- What clues might indicate the screenshot is not from CNN? 1. The user name at the top is not a news source. Need to check the account. 2.  It is very minute, but the placement of the @CNN is too low. 3. The photo is already clearly edited with the text on top. What else was edited?

2- What techniques or online tools could you use to verify that it is from CNN? 1. Check CNN’s social media stream directly. 2. Check CNN’s website and other social media for the story. 3. Do a reverse image search.

Explain that they will watch a video from the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network that demonstrates four ways to check an online screenshot to verify if it is real. Ask them to track the four techniques on their student handout as they will need to use those tools in an activity.

1. There is no link to the original tweet — cannot interact with it

2. Go to the referenced account and scroll to the original tweet or social media post. Explain what each of these two online tools do that can help identify a fake screenshot on social media:

3. Look for errors or discrepancies in formatting

4. Try a keyword search

Application (15 Minutes)

Application: “One of these things is not like the other activity”. Compare and contrast these posts: Identify differences between the fake screenshots and real Tweets. Note that these fakes also happened during Elon Musk’s brief introduction of the $8 checkmark and are examples of satire, but are still good to note how to recognize fakes.

Fake Tweet ScreenshotReal TweetsSimilarities and differences
Similar: checkmark, Name, logo

Different: white v. blue checkmark, logo missing blue perimeter, @name, “official” designation
Similar: checkmark, logo

Different: @name, Nestle v. Nestle US, “official” designation
Similar: checkmark, logo

Different: @name, Nestle v. Nestle US, “official” designation

Assessment (5 Minutes)

“What’s the Big Idea?” Discussion Questions

  1. What is the motivation behind posting a fake screenshot?
  1. How do fake screenshots help spread misinformation?
  1. List at least two visual clues you can look for to identify a fake screenshot:



Extension and refining activity — ticket out the door

Put these fact-checking tips to the test. One of these tweets below was a fake screenshot and the other is real and posted by the owner of the Twitter account. Mark one as “Fake” and one as “Real”:

Joe Biden never posted this. That can be verified by scrolling through his social media account or using the The Wayback Machine and entering his account URL and searching for that date:

Also the formatting is missing the phrase United States government official

Mary J. Blige actually did tweet this. You can still find her follow-up tweet (which also contains a misspelling – oof) on her twitter feed from the next day: 

Explain how you verified each post.

Answers vary

Additional Resources

MediaWise is a digital media literacy initiative of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Now in over 170 middle and high schools, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) is a national youth journalism program that trains teenagers across the country to produce stories that highlight the achievements and challenges today’s youth face.