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Fake News

Introduction

What makes a news story fake?

  • It can't be verified.
    • A fake news article may or may not have links in it tracing its sources; if it does, these links may not lead to articles outside of the site's domain or may not contain information pertinent to the article topic.
  • Fake news appeals to emotion.
    • Fake news lays on your feelings - it makes you angry or happy or scared.  This is to ensure you won't do anything as pesky as fact-checking.
  • Authors usually aren't experts.
    • Most authors aren't even journalists, but paid trolls.
  • It can't be found anywhere else.
    • If you look up the main idea of a fake news article, you might not find any other news outlet [real or not] reporting on the issues.
  • Fake news comes from fake sites.
    • Did your article come from abcnews.com.co?  Or mercola.com? Realnewsrightnow.com?  These and a host of other URLs are fake news sites.

 

"What makes a news story fake?" by Albuquerque Public Library.

Types of Fake News

There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

  • CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and 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-y 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/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

How To Recognize Fake News

How To Fact Check

Sick and tired of seeing misinformation? Never know who or what to trust? Can't figure out if what you've heard is true? Feel Duped? Want better tools to sort truth from fiction? Here's a quick guide to sorting out facts, weighing information and being knowledgeable online and off

  • Check Credentials - Is the author specialized in the field that the article is concerned with? Does s/he currently work in that field? Check LinkedIn or do a quick Google search to see if the author can speak about he subject with authority and accuracy.
  • Read the “About Us” section. Does the resource have one? It may be on a tab at the top of the page, or a link at the bottom of the page, but all reputable websites will have some type of About Us section and will provide a  way for you to contact them.
  • Look for Bias - does the article seem to lean toward a particular point of view? Does it link to sites, files, or images that seem to skew left or right? Biased articles may not be giving you the whole story.
  • Check the Dates - Like eggs and milk, information can have an expiration date. In many cases, use the most up-to-date information you can find.
  • Check out the Source - When an article cites sources, it's good to check them out. Sometimes, official-sounding associations are really biased think tanks or represent only a fringe view of a large group of people. If you can't find sources, read as much about the topic as you can to get a feel for what's already out there and decide for your self if the article is accurate or not.
  • Use the CRAAP Test - Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority, and Purpose
  • Interrogate urls - We see quite a bit of domain manipulation these days. For instance, what looks like an .edu domain, followed by .co or “lo” is likely a fake or deceptive site.  If you are you seeing a slightly variant version of a well-known URL, do a little investigating.
  • Who owns the website posting the information? - You can find out at either http://whois.domaintools.com or at https://whois.icann.org. Both of these websites allow you to perform a WHOIS search. Whenever someone registers a website address, they are required to enter their contact information. When you get to your WHOIS search, enter in the domain (the first part of the website URL). This step can be used to collect all the information when you question a source, or the information's purpose.
  • Suspect the sensational - When you see something posted that looks sensational, it is even more important to be skeptical. Exaggerated and provocative headlines with excessive use of capital letters or emotional language are serious red flags.
  • Judge Hard - If what you're reading seems too good to be true, or too weird, or too reactionary, it probably is.

Fact Checking Resources

News Literacy Vocabulary

confirmation bias: the tendency to believe information is credible if it conforms to the reader’s/viewer’s existing belief system, or not credible if it does not conform

content farm or content mill: a company that employs a staff of freelance writers to create content designed to satisfy search engine retrieval algorithms with the goal of attracting views and advertising revenue.

echo chamber: “In news media an echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.” (Wikipedia)

fact checking: the act of verifying assertions either prior to publication or after dissemination of the content

filter bubble: When search tools present with the stories we are likely to click on or share based on our past activity, potentially affirming our biases, we may be experiencing what Eli Pariser calls a filter bubble,

herding phenomenon: as more journalists begin to cover a story, even more journalists are likely to join the herd, imitating the angle the story initially took rather than developing alternate or original approaches or angles.

native advertising: paid, sponsored content designed to look like the legitimate content produced by the media outlet.

triangulation or cross verification: Researchers establish validity by using several research methods and by analyzing and examining multiple perspectives and sources in the hope that diverse viewpoints can shed greater light on a topic.

satisficing: a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice introduced by Herbert Simon in 1956 to refer to the tendency of people, bounded by time limitations, to select good enough information over optimal information

virality: the rapid circulation of media from one user to another.  When we forward sensational stories, often from social media without checking their credibility in other sources, we increase their virality.