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Fake News: What is Fake News

Information, links, and tools from outside organizations to help guide readers in navigating potential fake news.

What is Fake News?

"Shared a story on Facebook - Didn't Fact Check First"

Fake news can be harmful in that it leads readers to believe things or events which are inaccurate. BBC News has stated it is one of the Grand Challenges that define our age (BBC News, 2017).

As a consumer of information, your time, attention, and even your action of clicking open a link is a valuable commodity. Websites glean money from advertisers based on the number of views, likes, clicks, etc. Both legitimate and hoax news sites have a stake in trying to get your attention, but reliable news outlets also have journalistic and editorial standards that (usually) keep them from resorting to click bait or outright emotional manipulation. Their primary purpose is to provide factual information to readers. Hoax news sites and many hyper-partisan news sites have fewer scruples.

"Fake news is not a humorous comment on the news. Rather, fake news seeks to supplant the news, to sway its audience into believing all sorts of untruths and conspiracy theories, the more bizarre, the better."

-- Leonard Pitts, "Newspapers, the Answer to Fake News," Baltimore Sun (1 December 2016)

Generation Z tends to be adept at most things digital. But several recent surveys and studies show that today's students have an alarming lack of news literacy. More than 80 percent of middle school students couldn't tell the difference between real news stories and ads that look like news, a 2016 study by Stanford researchers concluded.

Fake News Sites - Examples

What is Real News?

  1. Real news is presented by real news sources. Check your news source for a code of ethics or a mission statement.
  2. Real news is written by reporters with degrees in journalism and, often, in the fields in which they write.
  3. The primary goal of real news is to inform. If you're made, scared, furious or anxious, you will want to investigate the article's claims further.
  4. Real news can be verified. You should be able to find reports, statistics and other real news articles that support what you're reading.

Types of Fake News

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

  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. While they may be loosely influenced by facts, these stories can't be verified.
  2. Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information. Stories that present facts, often carefully selected, through a biased perspective. There are different levels of bias, but credible reporters and news sites attempt to present facts with objectivity. 
  3. Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions. Outrageous headlines and stories designed to get readers to click open links to a particular webpage. These often try to manipulate emotions or elicit surprise. You've seen a lot of this already - it often involves politics or celebrities.
  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.  While they often use false headlines, they are created to poke fun at current events or people, not to convince readers that the information is true.

How False News Can Spread

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