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Hot Topics: Fake News and Misinformation: Identifying Fake News

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.


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. 


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.


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.


Now that you're familiar with misinformation and the myriad types of "fake news," what are the basic steps you can 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? This portion of the site may also identify it as satire. What do you learn about the site when you search them on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Wikipedia?

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? Who is affiliated with the organization? What are their funding sources? 

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.

How to Spot Fake News

Fact Checking Links

Is this misinformation?

Use these links to help you evaluate known stories on a variety of subjects. They can serve as examples of how people have attempted to research unclear, uncertain, false, misleading, or inaccurate claims.

Note: Do these sources have bias? Remember to corroborate what you find in fact checking sites as you would with other claims.

Fake News Browser Extensions

Browser extensions allow you to modify your online experience. Here are some browser extensions that can help you spot fake news while searching the web. Keep in mind that none of these tools is perfect, but you might find one or more to be fun (and useful), along with your own critique of news sources you encounter.

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.


Read Widely

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.

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