The rise in popularity of online social networks has greatly affected how we communicate and share information with one another. The same tools that are used to help foster openness and better communication are also used to disseminate inaccurate and biased information across the web. "Fake news" has become somewhat of an epidemic as of late. The purpose of this guide is to define and help users identify fake news.
Although the term "fake news" most often refers to completely fabricated news, it is important to also note that many news outlets whether online, print, or televised exhibit some sort of bias either explicit or implicit. It is up to the reader or viewer to do the proper research to make sure the information is accurate.
What Makes a News Story Fake?
1. It can't be verified - Make sure that the article you are reading lists it's sources, and make sure that those sources aren't just other articles published by that same website.
2. Fake news appeals to emotion - Fake news is meant to elicit an emotional response from the reader. This is a tactic employed to help ensure that the reader doesn't do any fact-checking.
3. Authors usually aren't experts - Oftentimes the authors of these articles aren't even journalists.
4. It can't be found anywhere else - Most of the time if you research the main idea of a fake news article, you may not find it referenced anywhere else.
Types of Fake News
According to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College, there are four categories of fake news.
Category 1: Fake, false or regularly misleading websites that are shared on social media. Some of these websites may rely on "outrage" by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
Category 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information.
Category 3: Websites which sometimes use "clickbait" headlines and social media descriptions.
Category 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual news.
Tips for Identifying Fake News
Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, created a list of tips for identifying fake news sites and compiled a list of "fake, false, or regularly misleading websites" that intentionally publish fake information or are otherwise unreliable. The list was created in December 2016. The Daily Dot updated the list in January 2017.
Here are some of her tips for identifying fake news:
- Avoid websites that end in "lo" ex: Newslo (Newslo is now found at Politicops.com). These sites take pieces of accurate information and then package that information with other false or misleading "facts" (sometimes for the purpose of satire or comedy)
- Watch out for common news websites that end in "com.co" as they are often fake versions of real news sources (remember: this is also the domain for Columbia!).
- Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
- Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
- Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
- Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: Buzzfeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
- Check the "About Us" tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes.com or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
- Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you're looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
- If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it's probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn't purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
- If the website you're reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it's unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.
- Read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints. Sources such as The Daily Koz, The Huffington Post, and Fox News vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.
For additional information see all of Professor Zimbar's tips and her December 2016 list of fake news sites.
Fact Checking Tools
Factcheck - A non-partisan, non-profit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
Politifact - A Pulitzer prize-winning website that researches the claims of politicians and checks their accuracy.
Snopes - One of the oldest debunking sites on the internet. Snopes.com focuses on urban legends, news stories and memes. Most importanly, they also cite their sources at the end of each debunking.
The Washington Post Fact Checker - A resource mainly devoted to political fact checking.
AllSides - A news site that exposes bias by providing various points of view on the same topic.
Other Articles and Resources About Fake News
Librarians vs Fake News - One hour panel discussion sponsored by the Illinois Library Association, RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System), and Gail Borden Public Library Districk (Elgin, Illinois)
Help! My News is Fake! - Guide put together by the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library
News Literacy - Guide put together by the Zion-Benton Township High School Library
Understanding Fake News - Blog entry by Bruce Brigell, Skokie Public Library (includes a list of browser plug-ins)