Spotting Fake News

dog laying on back in the grass reading 'daily dog' newspaper

"Fake News" is described by the New York Times as "a made-up story with an intention to deceive, often geared toward getting clicks." It is meant to fool readers and generate profit through clickbait. Clickbait is content that is meant to attract reader attention and encourage clicking to take the reader to a web page. 

 

The increasing use of social media means that stories can be shared very quickly, making it easy to spread fake news, opinions, or misinformation. It is important to be able to tell the difference between reliable sources of news, and fake news which can be difficult. 

Many platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, present 'news' items, ads, or 'sponsored content' in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish real news or sources from hoax sites, spoofs, and satirical pieces. Often theses ads have headlines which imply one thing but when clicked, take you to a completely different page that has nothing to do with the headlines provided. A good example of this can be seen in this article, where Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg's post is lined up beside two fake news items. We must keep in mind that social media ad space is sold to brokers, so they often do not know what is being advertised on their site. 

News literacy is important, and there are a few ways that we can determine whether an article or video is from a legitimate news organization. Question things you are reading, be selective, and fact-check. 

Who?

  • Who wrote it? 
    • If someone puts time into a well-researched article, they will likely include their name. Check if the name is missing.
  • What are their qualifications?
    • If the author is listed, find out what their credentials are - what is their job? Who do they work for? Have they written other well-researched articles?
  • Check the 'About Us'
    • This is normally available at the top or bottom of a website, outlining the purpose of the site. It can help you determine whether it is a trustworthy source.
    • Does the organization have an authoritative team of journalists/writers? Do members of the public contribute? 

What?

  • Does the article inform you of different viewpoints?
    • News articles should provide you from facts from all sides of the topic to try to remove bias. If there is only one side, you aren't getting the full story.
  • Does the content match the headline?
    • Headlines give you an idea what the story is about. They can be used to persuade you to believe something before you read the article. 
    • Falsified headlines can be used as clickbait, or to get readers to believe the claim without reading the article. 
    • Check for spelling or grammar errors. Well-researched articles are usually read/edited by multiple people before publication.

When?

  • When was this article published?
    • The older the article, the less up-to-date the facts are. Information may have been disproven in the time since it was published.
    • Check if links are broken. 
  • Was the article repurposed or updated?
    • These types of articles should have a disclaimer at the beginning or end. 
    • Usually happens when a current event is related.
  • Why should I check the date? 
    • The date lets you know when the article was published. Often, websites include timestamps. You can use the date to see if similar articles were written by other news organizations around the same time.

Where?

  • Does the URL look correct?
    • One wrong letter and you could end up at a webpage you were not intending to. 
    • Sometimes, URLS are made to look official or similar to the legitimate source. URLS and their domains (.ca, .com, etc.) can be purchased by anyone and often don't have requirements to register. 
    • If you don't know the URL, use a search engine and review the results to find the legitimate site you require
  • Where did I find this article? 
    • Social media platforms are not news organizations and there is almost no monitoring for the spread of fake news on these sites
    • Be wary of images that may have been manipulated, use Google reverse image search to see where else that image has appeared
    • Newspapers and network/cable news hire reporters and journalists. They have strict policies and standards. They also may publish opinion or discussion pioeces with individuals offering different viewpoints on a current topic.
  • Is it a blog?
    • Blogs can be written by any individual or small group. They often use sensational headlines to get you interested. They may write from a specific viewpoint or target specific audiences. Verify any information you find on other websites, but beware that their fake news could be shared on other, similar sites. 
    • Advertisements on blogs generate revenue for the blogger. 

Why?

  • What is the purpose of the information? (Who benefits?)
      • To inform?
        Think critically and determine what the main piece of information you are receiving is. Are the facts verifiable? Are sources offered? Can you evaluate teh sources? Where do the links take you?
      • To sell?
        Is the article trying to sell you something? Sometimes they are designed to get you to buy a product and the article is actually an advertisement. Check for 'sponsored content' or 'native advertising'.
      • To entertain?
        Satire uses writing techniques like irony or exaggeration to expose hypocrisy and is usually funny. Fake news is that hypocrisy. 
      • To persuade?
        Determine if the author is trying to persuade you of one thing or another. Try to determine the author's point of view, or whether they are being objective. After researching the author, determine why they may have a certain bias and who it would benefit to get you to believe what they are saying. 

Research Guides

laptop on desk with Fake News on the screen

Websites

  • FactCheck.Org 
    A project of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Annenberg Public Policy Center, monitoring the factual accuracy of what is said by US political players.
  • PolitiFact
    Staff from the Tampa Bay Times publish original statements by US politicians, check their factual accuracy, and assign each a rating ranging from "True" to "Pants on Fire".
  • Media Bias/Fact Check 
    A searchable database of media sources and articles that are categorized according to bias, from extreme left to extreme right. Remember, "bias" is subjective, and not the same as "fact."
  • Snopes
    An independent website that covers urban legends, modern folklore, internet rumours, and other stories of questionable origin.
  • TruthOrFiction.com 
    Another independent myth-busting website, focusing on dubious stories that resurface year after year, instead of current events.
  • Hoaxy
    A search engine developed by researchers at Indiana University that visualizes how fake news and other claims spread across social media.