Tag Archives: news

Fake News

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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.

Categories of Fake News

There are a few different ways to categorize it, but generally fake news can be put into these categories:

  • False/ deceptive
    • Stories that are completely made up, no truth to them whatsoever (like the story about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for President)
    • Deliberately fabricated news that is intended to mislead or make money through clicks
    • Entirely fake news websites or “imposter sites” that are designed to look like a real/ credible website (like abcnews.com.co)
  • 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
  • Slanted/ biased
    • Stories that contain truthful elements but they are selectively chosen (or omitted) to serve an agenda (like gaining headlines)
    • Certain content from Fox News, MSNBC, and others could fall under this category
  • Misleading
  • 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 from Hurricane Sandy)

The Very Brief History of 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; and these tabloids have been in publication for many years (some of which include the National Enquirer, National Examiner, New York Post, Globe, and Daily Mail). 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.

Social Media (Fuel to the Fake News Flame)

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.

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:

  • 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. Click here to explore the reliable databases available through the 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:

  • 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!

Preventing Fake News

While it is almost impossible to prevent fake news, we can, however, strive to prevent its spread.

  • Before sharing, commenting, or liking, it is paramount that you read past the title of the article.
  • Follow the steps to determine fake news and see if there are any red flags.
  • Put the article or source to the test and use a fact checking website.
  • Use the “Report” option on social media to flag fake news. Facebook and Twitter have options to flag posts that are spam, harmful, or inappropriate. Click the little downward arrow at the upper right of the post to report it.
  • 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.

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 the Source:

LibGuides:

Videos:

Additional Resources:

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.
    • Fake News category: Satire/ parody/ jokes
  • 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.
    • Fake News category: False/ deceptive
  • 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.
    • Fake News category: Manipulated
  • 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.
    • Fake News category: Satire/ parody/ jokes

Additional Reading:

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