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Hot Topics: Fake News and Misinformation: Identifying Fake News

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Types of Fake News

According to Melissa Zimdars at Merrimack College, there are a number of categories of fake news. Here are some to look out for:

Fake News

These are news sources that publish articles that spread falsehoods. They may do so for a number of reasons, and may include some accurate news on their site to appear credible. Fake News is often shared on social media sites, and relies on either outraging the reader or confirming their suspicions.

Satire

One effective way of commenting on political or cultural events is through satire. Satirical articles are designed to mislead you momentarily in an attempt to critique or ridicule a situation. However, they can become damaging if they are shared as "News," and it is important to have them clearly labeled and understood as commentary rather than fact. Satire sites should include disclaimers on their website, often in the header or on their "About Us" page.

Extreme Bias

Some sites will use pieces of accurate information and discard other accurate information that may disprove their point or provide another point of view. Even though they use some factual information, they are still unreliable sources of information due to their limited scope. 

Clickbait

Articles that use a shocking headline to drive traffic to their site are considered clickbait. Often, these headlines are not supported by the article they link to, and may be about a completely different subject. Clickbait generates significant advertising revenue for the website due to the high volume of clicks.

Conspiracy

Websites that include fake news may also try to link unrelated events together to prove that there is a conspiracy. They often rely on the argument that "It hasn't been disproved, so it must be true." Find corroborated evidence before believing these types of claims.

State News (Propaganda)

States may produce their own misinformation in order to maintain control of a country, or give power to a leader. Any news source that is produced, published, or written by the government or politician should be verified by an external and unbiased source.

Steps

Steps to Identify Misinformation

Now that you're familiar with misinformation and the newer phenomenon of "Fake News," what are the basic steps you should take to identify misinformation?

Does the article make you feel very strongly about the subject?

  • Does it make you angry? Does it make you want to take action and spread the article? Take these as a reason to look deeper into the article. Fake news sites rely on your emotional response to spread farther.

Look at the website

  • Look up the website on lists of known fake news sites.

  • Does it have a professional appearance? You can expect high quality news sources to look professional.

  • Does it use ALL CAPS? This is unprofessional and encourages strong emotions - a good indicator of a low quality source of information
  • Does the article list the author? If not, it is unlikely to be sufficiently high quality, and you will need to verify all of the information. 
  • Read the "About Us" page. Who are the owners, writers, publisher, etc? If there is no information about the website, it is not reliable. This portion of the site may also identify it as satire

Do your diligence

  • Look up the author. What are their credentials? Are they well respected?

  • Look up the owners, publishers, and editors. What are their credentials? Are they well respected?

Can you find the same topic covered by other, reputable news sources?

  • If it seems like big news but is the only source of coverage, it is likely untrue.

Follow up

  • Do other reputable news sources portray the event in similar ways? Can you identify strong bias? Any topic will likely be covered in a variety of ways, and taking this step will help you place the article in context.

Identifying Misinformation

CRAAP

Can you tell real news from fake news? Play Factitious to find out!

Fact Checking Links

Is this misinformation?

Use these links to evaluate known stories and check facts for a variety of subjects.

Accuracy in Journalism

What should you expect from journalism?

Journalists often use checklists to ensure that each piece of reporting is reliable and high quality. These lists will give you a sense of what you can expect from a reputable news source. To build your own fact checking skills, the online course is a good way to learn more.

Books

Read More

Books take time to be published, so most current information about "fake news" is available as articles or other news sources. However, books can provide excellent historical information about misinformation, disinformation, and the information society.

News Research

Looking for reputable news sources? Want to do historical research? 

Check out the News Research guide!

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