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Spotting Fake News
What It Is & Why You Should Care
Fake news has become a buzzword recently with our increased use of social media and the ability of anyone to publish items on the Internet. However, the idea of “fake news” has been around a long time. For example, did you ever see sensational headlines like “Bat Boy Lives in South America” from the World Weekly News while in line at the grocery store? For our purposes, fake news means any article published online or off that claims to be true but is not.
The main way to combat fake news is to learn how to evaluate news and information sources. Librarians and educators call this “information literacy.” This means knowing where your information comes from and using critical judgment to evaluate information sources. Understanding how to evaluate information is an important part of being a well-informed citizen.
This quick guide contains information and terms for you to consider when reading and evaluating information you find on the web or anywhere else in your life. If you ever have questions about a news story or other source of information, you can always visit the library and we can help you find resources.
This short video below from Fact-Check.org is a good introduction to fake news and how to spot it.
Terms to Know
Fake News – This refers to any article or news item published on the web or elsewhere that claims to be a fact but is not true.
Confirmation Bias – Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person wants an idea or situation to be true, so they end up believing it is true. This article from Psychology Today perfectly explains the concept. When we read the news, we are influenced by our own thoughts, ideas, opinions, and beliefs. We are more likely to believe information is true if it is something that confirms our own beliefs and opinions.
Satire – Satire is defined as using irony or sarcasm to poke fun at something or discredit or expose a vice or folly. Many entertainment sites use satire and humor on the web to make fun of the news and our media environment. You may be familiar with a satirical site such as The Onion or, in Shreveport, The Crayfish. If you suspect an article is fake news, you might want to check and see if it is satire or humor.
Filter Bubble – The term filter bubble describes our current online environment and how websites and social media sites tailor your online experience to your individual tastes and preferences. That means in many cases your social media feeds will only show you news and information that you personally selected. Because you may not see diverse ideas and information, you may be missing out on many things happening in the world.
Give It the CRAAP Test
Developed by librarians at California State University Chico, the CRAAP test can help students evaluate information resources. This test is also useful in the context of fake news items. Anytime you evaluate a source of information, you should consider its currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Below, we outline what exactly these terms mean and how you can evaluate them in a source.
Currency – When was the information published? Look for a date on the article or website. Often, old articles and articles reposted in new contexts are prime examples of fake news.
Relevance – Does the information relate to the topic you are researching? Who is the intended audience? Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is the information you need? This concept is most suited to scholars and students using information for their research. However, it is always useful to consider how relevant information is to what you are trying to understand.
Authority – Who is the author of the information? Who is the publisher? What are the author’s qualifications to write about the topic? If you are on the web, look at a site’s “About Us” page and see if you can learn more about publication and its qualifications. Search for other articles that the author has written. Anyone online can create a website that looks like a news site, but that does not mean a team of fact-checkers, editors, and experts have vetted a story for publication. Also, check the URL of the resource. For example, the type of URL will help you determine the type of information — .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (US government), .org (non-profit organization), or .net (network).
Accuracy – Where does the information come from? Who are the sources of information? Can you verify any of the information in another source? Is the language free of bias? It is a good practice to look for more than one article about a story and compare the articles. If something is true, more than one article will be published with the same or similar information. Also, be aware that some sources may be biased toward a certain viewpoint, so search out multiple sources to get a complete picture.
Purpose – Why was the information published? Does it intend to sell anything? Is the story to teach, to inform, or to persuade? Does the point of view seem impartial or is it meant to convince you of something? Always consider why an article was written and what it is trying to convey. For instance, an article might be published on a news site, but it may be “sponsored content,” meaning it is trying to sell you a certain product.
These items are summed up perfectly in this infographic from the International Federation of Library Associations:
Fact Check Resources Online
The following sources are good places to check whether an article is true or not. These sites keep up with the latest news and can help you determine if an article is fake news.
Further Reading & Resources
“Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds,” by Sue Shellenbarger, published November 16, 2016 in the Wall Street Journal.
Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era by Daniel J. Levitin (Catalog Link)
The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks by Bruce Bartlett (Catalog Link)
“Website Research: CRAAP Test.” Central Michigan University Library. Accessed November 10, 2017.
“Evaluating Information: The CRAAP Test.” Meriam Library, California State University at Chico. Accessed November 10, 2017.
“What Is Confirmation Bias?” by Shahram Heshmat, PhD. Psychology Today. April 23, 2015.
"How to Spot Fake News." International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Accessed November 14, 2017.