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. 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.
- How to Spot Fake News – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
- Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Fake News Edition – On The Media
- How to Identify Fake News in 10 Steps – ProQuest
- Ten Questions for Fake News Detection – The News Literacy Project
Fact Checking Websites:
Identifying Fake News Sources:
- News sources chart – Vanessa Otero
- False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources – Melissa Zimdars