Fake News

fake-1903774_1280We live in a digital age of information. At the click of a button we have access to thousands, if not millions, of resources online. But can we trust all of this information? Unfortunately, no. For example, did you know the website MartinLutherKing.org is hosted by Stormfront, a white supremacist organization?

There has been an increase (perhaps explosion or pandemic) in recent years of fake news. But what is fake news? Fake news can be described as propaganda, a hoax, and/or misinformation that is purposely spread and published as real news – often using social media – with the intent to mislead for political or financial gains. Fake news will often utilize eye-catching headlines and images to increase sharing and views.

Fake news is different from satire news. Satire news, like content from The Onion, seeks to entertain rather than mislead like fake news.

Fake news is nothing new. It has been around for many years. A trip to your local grocery or convenience store’s checkout lane will reveal a plethora of tabloids containing fictional or less than reputable information, often about celebrities. These tabloids have been in publication for many years. A 2017 NPR article explains that long before fake news, there were staged photos. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, tall-tale postcards emerged in the early 1900s with larger-than-life images of crops and animals, thanks to clever photography and darkroom tricks. Yellow journalism was a term coined in the 1890s to describe sensational news that is not well-researched but instead strives to be eye-catching to sell more newspapers.

If fake news is nothing new, why is at the forefront of current issues plaguing society? Insert social media.

Social media usage has exploded in the last several years. It has become part of everyday life. In fact, a 2016 survey from the Pew Research Center indicates that 62% of adults get their news from social media. This number is up from 49% in 2012. Social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., have become one stop shops for sharing content, interacting with others, and, you guessed it, getting news.

Sharing content on social media has never been easier. One or two clicks is all it takes. But did you take the time to read more than just the headline before you liked, commented, or shared? Is the source reputable? Unfortunately, fake news outlets use social media to their advantage because the before mentioned questions go unanswered, it is easy for them to share things too, they are able to reach a wide audience, and their headlines or images draw people in (also referred to as clickbait).

With so much information present on social media and the sharing of it, it can be easy to skim something and not realize it might be fake. People do not always take the time to fact check something before sharing or commenting.

However, there are a few quick and easy things you can look for to spot fake news. FactCheck.org has some great advice on how to spot fake news:

  • Consider the source
  • Read beyond the headline
  • Check the author
  • Check the supporting sources
  • Check the date
  • Is it a joke?
  • Check your biases
  • Ask the experts

It is easy to do a couple quick checks to identify fake or real news. But when in doubt, ask the experts – like librarians! Libraries are a trusted source of information. Utilizing librarians, library resources, and library databases is a great way of finding credible sources and information, and not to mention avoiding the possibility of running into fake news.

Many libraries across the country are already working to combat the fake news problem. For example, many libraries are creating guides and resources.

The Harvard Library has created a guide that lists 5 ways to spot fake news:

  • Consider the source
  • Check the URL
  • Look for visual clues
  • Get a second opinion
  • Put your browser to work

Universities and schools are also fighting back against fake news. Librarians have partnered with the University of Michigan to offer a class on fake news called “Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction.”

Other things to look for to spot fake news:

  • ALL CAPS
  • Advertisements: excessive pop-ups, banners, etc.
  • Assess grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Use a reverse image search (like TinEye)
  • If you’re not sure it’s true, then don’t share or comment!

There is a lot of information out there, and that is unlikely to change. As more things become accessible online, we have to remain vigilant of what is credible and what is not. It is up to us to be responsible enough to decipher what is real and what it fake. Take advantage of the simple advice, the easy credibility checks, and the many resources at your disposal to win the war on fake news.

Resources

Handouts:

Fact Checking Websites:

Identifying Fake News Sources:

LibGuides:

Examples of Fake News:

  • Fargo Man Arrested for Clearing Snow with Flamethrower
    • Source: FM Observer (clicking on their About page will reveal this message: “FM Observer provides farcical/satirical news and entertainment for the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding area, as well as nationally. We are the greatest website you will ever visit in your entire human existence.”)
    • It is no secret that North Dakota can get a lot of snow, so something like this can easily catch someone’s interested because we all get sick of snow at some point and likely consider doing this to our snowbanks. This fake news article coincidentally resurfaces on social media each winter since it was first published in 2013.
    • Fact checking website Snopes has confirmed that this story is indeed FALSE.
  • Vince Gilligan Announces Breaking Bad Season 6… (and this story also appeared on Facebook: Breaking Bad season 6 announced!!!) WARNING: these articles, although fake, do contain some spoilers about Breaking Bad.
    • Source: NBC? At first glance, it appears as though this article comes from NBC News. Look carefully at the URL. You’ll notice that it says “nbc.com.co”. Anytime “.co” is added to the end of a URL, you need to be suspicious of this news source and its content. This is an indicator that this source is not reliable.  Also note that the official NBC logo is missing.
    • After 5 seasons, Breaking Bad aired its last episode in 2013. The show generated a large fan base, so it makes sense that people would get excited about seeing an article like this.
    • Fact checking website Snopes has confirmed that this story is indeed FALSE.
  • The Simpsons predicted the score of Super Bowl 51
    • You may have seen an image floating around on social media after the 2017 Super Bowl of The Simpsons. In the image (an example of which can be viewed here) the Atlanta Falcons appear to lose to the New England Patriots by a score of 28 to 34. It’s a miracle! …or it’s fake.
    • In the episode (“The Town” – season 28, episode 3), which aired in October 2016, the actual final score of the game is 23 to 21, and the teams are Springfield and Boston (image can be viewed here).
    • Clever photo editing was used to alter the image from The Simpsons episode.
    • Fact checking website Snopes has confirmed that this story is indeed FALSE.
  • Even NPR pulled a fast one on us: Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore? (and also on Facebook: What has become of our brains?)
    • Source: NPR (very reliable – except when they pull April Fools’ Day pranks)
    • NPR basically conducted an experiment with this April Fools’ Day article. They wanted to see how people would react. If you click on the article and read its content, it says “If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this ‘story’.” If you look at the Facebook comments, you can tell many people only looked at the title of this article.
    • Before sharing, commenting, or liking, it is paramount that you read past the title.
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