Category Archives: Fake news

Fake News Browser Extensions

Fake news and misinformation are everywhere. It seems like every time breaking news emerges, there are also fake or misleading stories being spread right alongside the factual information (often times via social media).

What is a person to do? Well, there are some easy steps the average person can take to remain vigilant (consult the many resources available here). It is vital that everyone should learn to identify and prevent fake news, why not let something else do the work for you if that option is available?

In the United States, the majority of adults (90+%) get at least some news online via mobile or desktop, according to a Pew Research Center report. Folks who get their news exclusively from mobile devices will have to manually identify and prevent fake news; but if you use a computer to get your news, consider installing a fake news-related browser extension.

Put your browser to work!

There are many fake news browser extensions available, but two prominent ones are NewsGuard and Media Bias Fact Check. They may not be 100% accurate (or you may not agree with them 100%), but they do a wonderful job of flagging sources that are suspicious, biased, untrustworthy, etc.

The two browsers don’t compete with each other. Rather, they are great companions to each other.

NewsGuard

(The bulk of the text below about NewsGuard is derived from an article written by Carmen Redding, which was published in the November 2018 issue of the State Library’s “Flickertale” newsletter.)

Are you having trouble deciding if a website is sharing the truth? Well, NewsGuard, a news literacy program, has been launched with the support from Microsoft. Staffed by almost 40 reporters and dozens of freelancers, the NewsGuard team diligently examines thousands of websites based on nine widely-accepted, journalistic criteria designed to minimize human bias and subjectivity. The results determine a website’s rating.

Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard Technologies’ co-founders and co-CEOs, joined forces to give this program a human face rather than relying on algorithms to determine what we see. NewsGuard is the opposite of an algorithm. People with journalistic backgrounds are reviewing the sites. “Algorithms don’t call for comment,” says Brill. NewsGuard, on the other hand, gives plenty of explanation about their ratings.

NewsGuard works as a browser plug-in/ extension, giving credibility ratings to thousands of websites. A user simply downloads the extension on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. Sorry, Internet Explorer, users. If you are reading this, it is time for you to abandon IE and go with a much superior browser.

After the extension is added, the NewsGuard icon will appear in the upper right corner of the browser. The rating icons will appear on websites, Google searches, and Facebook and Twitter when website articles are used.

George Washington

By hovering over the colored icon, a “Nutrition Label” appears. This label explains how NewsGuard decided the website’s rating. Ratings and label information are updated regularly, and whenever a site changes its practices, the icon will be adjusted accordingly.

Addicting Info

The NewsGuard website contains plenty of information, including a section dedicated to news literacy; and on this page, NewsGuard makes a compelling argument for libraries, educators, parents, etc. to add the browser extension to their computers.

The NewsGuard browser extension can be downloaded from their website: https://www.newsguardtech.com/

Media Bias Fact Check

According to their website, Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC) was founded in 2015 and “is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. MBFC News’ aim is to inspire action and a rejection of overtly biased media. We want to return to an era of straight forward news reporting.” MBFC’s methodology and additional information are available on their website.

The MBFC browser extension is not as comprehensive as NewsGuard, but it does excel in one area that is more hidden on NewsGuard: bias. After the extension is added, the MBFC icon will appear in the upper right corner of the browser.

When visiting a news-related website or reading an article, the browser extension will prominently display a color-coded icon indicating its bias (see image below for a list of the icons).

MBFC icons

Clicking on the icon will reveal more information about the source (see the slightly compressed image below).

Fox News

The Media Bias Fact Check browser extension is only available for Chrome (a Firefox version exists but it seems to be faulty). It can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store.

Fake News

[updated April 2019]

Fake News:
t
he history, hysteria, and hype –
and how to see through the subterfuge

fake-1903774_1280

We 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.

What is Fake News?

There has been an increase (or perhaps an 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 disinformation 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.

The term “fake news” has evolved in recent years to become rather generic and inclusive, encompassing things that may have been considered separate categories at one time (like hoaxes, misinformation, urban legends, satire, propaganda, etc.).

The Very Brief History of Fake News

Fake news is nothing new. It has been around for many years. Fake news could even be traced back to the fall of the Knights Templar in the early 1300s.

A 2017 NPR article explains that long before fake news, there were staged photos.

Yellow journalism is 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.

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.

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; and these tabloids have been in publication for many years (some of which include the National Enquirer, National Examiner, Star, Globe, and Weekly World News).

Social Media (fuel to the fake news flame)

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

Social media usage has exploded in the last several years. It has become part of everyday life. In fact, a 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center indicated that 68% of adults get their news from social media. This number is up from 49% in 2012. Social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, 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.

The Rise of Fake News (not just because of social media)

Social media cannot be completely blamed, however, for the rise of fake news. Other contributing factors include:

  • People moving away from newspapers, television, and radio to get their news
  • Evolution of the news (such as continuous coverage of an event without new and/or reliable information – this can lead to speculation and opinion)
  • Lack of media literacy
  • Ease of creating a blog or posting your own stories online
  • Tendency to trust what is seen on the internet
  • Tendency to trust the information received from friends and family

Consequences (so there’s fake news, so what?)

It’s safe to assume we can all agree that fake news is a problem. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, 88% of adults say fake news is either causing some or great confusion about current events and basic facts.

Okay, fake news is a problem; but why is it such a big deal? Well, according to the same Pew Research Center survey, about one in four adults has reported sharing fake news, whether they were aware of it at the time or not.

And that is just with adults. Children and teens are also susceptible to fake news. According to a study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG):

  • Over 80% of middle schoolers thought an example of “sponsored content” was a real news story
  • Over 30% of high school students thought a fake Fox News account was more reliable than the real one
  • “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.” — Sam Wineburg, lead author of the report. (Source: report’s press release)

Fakes news will often receive more views, shares, etc. than real news. For example, the top 20 election stories on Facebook (from August to November 2016) received the following engagements:

Even journalists and politicians have been known to share or reference fake news.

Fake news stories have even spiraled out of control and led to violence (like the “Pizzagate” incident).

A 2018 article from The Atlantic states fake news/ misinformation has fueled the spread of certain health risks (like diseases and not receiving vaccinations).

People often fall victim to fake news because they don’t fact check; the story supports their argument, position, or belief; or the amount of information available is too overwhelming.

So here is the bottom line: fake news is dangerous.

factsdontmatter

Humorous, yet chillingly accurate, cartoon published in the New Yorker

What is the Point of Fake News? (why do people create fake news in the first place?)

  1. Money
    • The ugly truth behind fake news: there is big money to be made. The money comes from advertisements. The more clicks/views received, the more ads there are (which results in more money).
    • So when it comes to fake news, the more shocking the headline, the more potential for clicks and shares (and money of course).
    • In 2016, a teen in Macedonia made $16,000 between August and November with his pro-Trump websites.
  2. Agenda
    • Some examples of fake news have an agenda. They want you to get “fired up” and join their “dark side”.
  3. Joke
    • Some fake news is just a joke. It is meant to humor and entertain.
  4. Slander
    • Some stories are created with the purpose of damaging reputations.
  5. Other
    • And the list goes on and on.

Categories of Fake Stuff

Fake news has become a rather broad term (including things like hoaxes, misinformation, urban legends, satire, propaganda, etc.). So when breaking things down into categories, it can be more beneficial to use the technical/ scientific term “fake stuff.” There are a few different ways to categorize fake stuff, but generally it can be put into these five categories:

  1. False/ deceptive
  2. Misleading
  3. Slanted/ biased
    • Stories that contain truthful elements but certain facts are selectively chosen or omitted to serve an agenda (like gaining headlines)
    • The stories that fall under this category are not necessarily false. The stories report true news, but they do so in a biased way.
    • Certain content from Fox News, MSNBC, and others could fall under this category (Fox News, MSNBC, Huffington Post, etc. don’t have to be completely avoided, but just be aware that biases may exist).
  4. Manipulated
    • Content or imagery that is altered falls under this category
    • “Doctored” or “Photoshopped” images would also be included (like some of the 2012 viral photos of Hurricane Sandy)
  5. Humor (satire/ parody/ jokes)
    • Stories are purposefully fake with no intention to cause harm, but has the potential to fool people
    • Satire news, like content from The Onion, seeks to entertain and be humorous rather than mislead, but people can misinterpret the content as real

Beyond “Fake News”

Alternatively, there is a commendable movement that calls for more precision when categorizing and talking about fake news – doing away with the simple and encompassing term that “fake news” has become. The idea is to make specific distinctions on the many different types of misleading news, which is especially important when considering how to best teach and inform how to spot these different types and how to dissect them.

EAVI (European Association for Viewers Interests) has a superb infographic available online. This Beyond “Fake News” infographic breaks down misleading news into ten categories: propaganda, clickbait, sponsored content, satire and hoax, error, partisan, conspiracy theory, pseudoscience, misinformation, and bogus. Four bonus categories include: false attribution, counterfeit, misleading, and doctored content.

How to Spot Fake News

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:

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. In fact, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey listed libraries at the most 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. Click here to explore the reliable databases available through the North Dakota State Library.

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:

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.”

Many universities, colleges, and schools are adopting the CRAAP Test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose).

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 like, share, or comment!

Only You Can Prevent Fake News

Social media platforms are starting to fight back against fake news and misinformation. However, some critics say that these companies (like Google, Facebook, and Twitter) are doing too little, too late (even YouTube is being criticized).

Twitter is cracking down on bots and fake accounts and Facebook has taken measures to combat the spread of misinformation, like updating its algorithm and News Feed, punishing groups who repeatedly spread fake news, etc.; but the real users continue to spread misinformation (and Facebook seems to be a little preoccupied with their privacy scandals).

After years of criticism for collecting ad money on fake stories (which often get more views that real stories) and helping spread fake news, the company has launched the Google News Initiative. This program is part of Google’s $300 million investment to support journalism and fight misinformation.

Some platforms (like Facebook and YouTube) have decided to ban conspiracy theory content, but there are easy ways around this.

YouTube now has a tool that adds fact-check links to certain videos, but this tool failed during coverage of the Notre Dame fire.

So long story short, it is up to us to also take on the responsibility of preventing the spread of fake news.

While it is almost impossible to prevent fake news, we can, however, strive to prevent its spread. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Let’s all be part of the solution by following these steps:

  • Before sharing, commenting, or liking, it is paramount that you read past the title of the article.
  • Follow the steps from FactCheck.org, Harvard, and others to identify fake news and determine if there are any red flags.
  • Put the article or source to the test and use a fact checking website (like Snopes).
  • Use the “Report” option on social media to flag posts that are spam, harmful, or inappropriate. Click the dots or downward arrow at the upper right of the post to report it.
  • Be responsible – Don’t try to fool people by sharing something that could be mistaken as a real story (like the person who intentionally tweeted a fake image of a shark swimming through the streets of Houston during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey).
  • When in doubt, chicken out. If you are not sure if the article is true or the source is reliable, then don’t share, like, comment, etc. Think before you share.

There is a lot of information online, 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 & Flyers:

Fact Checking Websites:

Identifying the Source:

LibGuides:

Videos:

Resources for Schools, Classrooms, & Educators:

Additional Resources:

Browser Extensions:

(For more information about these extensions, visit http://bit.ly/2V27PJZ).

  • NewsGuard (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari) – “NewsGuard uses journalism to fight false news, misinformation, and disinformation. Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism—and which are not.”
  • Media Bias Fact Check (Chrome) – “This extension will display a color-coded icon denoting the bias of the page you are currently viewing, according to Media Bias/Fact Check.”

Additional Reading:

  • Akpan, N. (2017). Everyone is too distracted to stop fake news, study shows. PBS Newshour. Retrieved from http://to.pbs.org/2sK1O5Y
  • Alvarez, B. (2017). Public libraries in the age of fake news. Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2iSOmcx
  • Davis, W. (2016). Fake or real? How to self-check the news and get the facts. NPR. Retrieved from http://n.pr/2hbEsl3
  • Lohr, S. (2018). It’s true: False news spreads faster and wilder. And humans are to blame. New York Times. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/2G7aWGI

What is news literacy? Why is it important?

“News literacy is the acquisition of 21st-century, critical-thinking skills for analyzing and judging the reliability of news and information, differentiating among facts, opinions and assertions in the media we consume, create and distribute. It can be taught most effectively in cross-curricular, inquiry-based formats at all grade levels. It is a necessary component for literacy in contemporary society.”

[From the Radio Television News Directors Foundation]

Students are bombarded by news in many formats — print media, broadcast media, Internet media, and social media. The volume, velocity, and variety of information is growing exponentially. News literacy skills are essential to distinguish between fact and opinion in this ocean of data. Students must be able to determine bias or the agenda of the writer. Reading out of their comfort zone will help students see other points of view, and be more tolerant and less emotional when discussing issues. In a democratic society, informed decision-making requires that students develop news literacy skills.

FactCheck

There are several online sources to help us check the validity of news stories. Here are two: FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit site that monitors major U.S. political players. Its goal is to “apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.” PolitiFact.com, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, basically checks the facts of anyone speaking about American politics. The most outrageously false statements get the “Pants on Fire” designation.

PantsOnFire

Teaching news literacy skills enables us to analyze, evaluate, compare, and critically think about the information we receive before we accept it.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”   –Yogi Berra