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English Writing & Composition: Fox Edele

Help! My News is Fake!

Did your mother call you to tell you that liberals hate science?  Did your Facebook feed pop up with an article on a new pesticide that's going to kill us all?  Did one of your friends breathlessly tell you that president-elect Donald Trump was going to pardon mass shooter Dylann Roof?  You might have heard any or all of these stories, but there's one thread connecting all of them: they're not true.

The ability to tell accurate news from fake news is an important skill that you'll use for the rest of your life.  This LibGuide will give you valuable insight in telling fact from fiction online, plus a chance to exercise your newfound skills. 

What kinds of fake news exist?

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.

Tips for Avoiding Fake News

#1: Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate (see left).

#2: Google It!

Flat-out fake news usually takes under a minute to detect. Google the headline and see what comes up. Any trustworthy sites reporting on the same thing? Any fact-checking sites that have already debunked it? Done.

#3: Get News from a News Source

An easy way to avoid constantly reading fake and misleading news is to go straight to a newspaper or news site rather than relying on social media.

#4: Distinguish Fact from Opinion

Even reliable news organizations often have space for opinion pieces within their websites/programming. In newspapers, these are called Op-Ed pieces, Editorials, Opinion, or Letters to the Editor. Television news also have opinion shows, like The O'Reilly Factor or The Rachel Maddow Show. Hopefully they are backing up their opinions with facts to prove their cases...but it is your job to find out what the unbiased facts are, too.

#5: Watch Out for Red Flags

  • Does the link end with .co instead of .com?
  • Are there small disclaimers, something that says "satire"?
  • When you click on a story in social media, is it a story that is outdated? Why is it being circulated now?
  • Is it posted by so-and-so? ...We all have that one friend on social media.

How do you know?

Real or Fake?

"Will Ferrell Said This About Pensacola, Florida Residents"

This article tells a charming story about how Will Ferrell once broke down in Pensacola and how people stopped to help him and took him to lunch. The article ends with Ferrell saying, "So yeah, that’s my story about Pensacola, Florida. It’s nice to know there are still places like this in America.”

I want to believe it, don't you? Is it real?

  • It turns out it was reported by (now defunct) that made money off of ad revenue and had a small "Disclaimer" that it was purely a satire website.
  • See Snopes Fact Check 

More on Fact-Checking