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Fake News: How to Distinguish it from Real News: What is Fake News?

Learn to tell real news from fake news

What is Fake News?

In 2016, Oxford Dictionary's word of the year was "post-truth: an adjective defined as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.' "

Fake news is a byproduct of this post-truth environment. These news stories disregard facts, and instead play to people's emotions and beliefs. Fake news is often shared on social media sites, which create echo chambers of like-minded people and organizations who share information that reinforces our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

This guide is designed to help you identify fake news and make sure that the information you are using is based in verifiable facts. 

The library also offers a workshop on Fake News, the first workshop was 2/8 but additional workshops will be announced soon. The workshop slides are available online.

Types of Fake News

There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

Why care about Fake News?

A Pew Research Study found that 66% of Facebook users get their news from the social media platform. Think about how many times you have found out about current events while scrolling through your Facebook feed. Despite the popularity of social media as news sources, not everything shared is a reliable. Unfortunately, in the 2016 US Election, fake news had more engagement on Facebook than real news. You need to learn to distinguish the real from the fake!