Fight Fake News

You’ve likely seen the headlines decrying the proliferation of fake news and our collective inability to distinguish fact from fiction in the online environment. Don’t despair — Gleeson Library is here to help you navigate these treacherous waters. Fight fake news by recognizing it, steering clear of it, and never forwarding it. Friends don’t let friends forward fake news!

  • Do you recognize the source? If not, read the “About” section on the website AND look up the website on Wikipedia or Snopes for more information about the source.
  • Are known/reputable news sites also reporting on the story? While a lack of coverage could be the result of corporate media bias and other factors, there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • A photograph (or chart) can’t lie, right? Don’t fall into the trap of trusting a story just because it includes a photo or statistics. You need to track down and assess the source of images and figures, the same way you verify any news source.
  • The top hits in google are reliable, right? Don’t trust Google to evaluate your sources for you.  Attempts at developing a “truth algorithm” to rank results have been elusive — it turns out that truthfulness is an exceedingly challenging thing for a computer program to measure.
  • Bad web design or use of ALL CAPS? These are potential signs that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • Website ends in “lo” (ex: Newslo)? These sites take pieces of accurate information and then package that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
  • Website ends in “.com.co”? These sites are often fake versions of real news sources.
  • Web address is odd? If the web address is unusual or unrelated to the news reported, you may have untruthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution? This may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Bloggers on a news website? Some news organizations allow bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands, but many of these posts do not go through the same editing process.
  • The story makes you REALLY ANGRY? It’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
  • What the “dox”? If a website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals (i.e., search for and share private information about someone, typically with malicious intent), it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.

Many thanks to  Melissa Zimdars (a Communications Professor at Merrimack College) for her excellent list of tips, from which I borrowed heavily in compiling the above recommendations.

Have any tips of your own to share? Post them here on Gleeson Gleanings.

See also these recent articles on fake news:

Pacific Standard’s Meet the Professor Calling Out the Fake and Misleading News Sites Clogging Your Facebook Feed

NPR’s Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds

ED Week’s Why Students Can’t Google Their Way to the Truth: Fact-checkers and students approach websites differently

Search Engine Land’s The Trouble with Truth

Image by Stuart Rankin from Flickr

2 thoughts on “Fight Fake News”

  1. This was a great post with manageable tips for improving information literacy. I thought the NPR article was especially interesting because I think people do believe that teens who are immersed in social media would be better at determining fake news from real news, so it was interesting to see the opposite! In my capstone class the professor made us use Stanford’s information literacy questions to determine a good web source from a bad one before we began our senior paper. This exercise was helpful because it made students actively look at domain names, About Us sections, and click on the hyperlink citations provided rather than just take them as fact. Important stuff!

  2. I, like many other students, have fallen victim to the temptation of clicking on a link with a ‘clickbait’ title that leads to a fake news site. This article and the resources provided at the bottom offer great tips for everyone to help avoid false information. The problem mentioned in the Pacific Standard article of Facebook’s algorithms being a big problem in terms of providing users with fake news is one that, from a computer science viewpoint, extremely challenging to overcome. As long as the fake news sites are allowed on Facebook and in the algorithms that calculate what a person wants to read based on his or her browsing history, the algorithms can’t help but pull up the fake news sites. I absolutely agree with the author of the Pacific Standard article that Facebook needs to get rid of any fake news website links. However, I can also see that from Facebook’s economic viewpoint, it would negatively impact the income generated from allowing these websites to advertise themselves and their articles on Facebook.

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