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Fake News - Telling Fact from Fiction: Background

Special Thanks to Indiana University East's KT Lowe!

Fake News? Alternative Facts?

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 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.

How Do You Know?

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.

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How to Fact-Check Like a Pro

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 the truth from fiction?  Here's a quick guide to sorting out the facts, weighting information and being knowledgeable online and off:

Check Credentials: Is the author specialized in the field with which the article is concerned? Does she currently work in that field? Check LinkedIn or do a quick Google search to see if the author can speak about the subject with authority and accuracy.

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 Sources: 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 yourself if the article is accurate or not.

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.

Judge Hard: If what you're reading seems too good to be true, or too weird, or too reactionary, it probably is.

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Attribution Info

Please feel free to share this guide with others.  If you are a librarian, you are welcome to use this guide and its contents for your own purposes.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This Research Guide has been adapted from Fake News created by KT Lowe, Coordinator of Library Instruction and Service Learning, Indiana University-East Library. http://iue.libguides.com/fakenews