Evaluating Information Sources: How to Spot Fake News
2016 was an interesting year. One of the consequences was Oxford Dictionaries announcing post-truth as their Word of the Year. Post-truth, if you didn't click the link, they define as:
‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
Two ways to appeal to "emotional and personal belief" are to screech that everything you find disagreeable is "fake news", and to show you (news) stories that are fake, but that might agree with your point of view.
So, what is fake news?
Fake news is false or inaccurate information, that is intended to deliberately misinform or deceive readers
The term covers a multitude of sins including:
- Fake News: Sources that make up information
- Propaganda: Sources that promote a biased point of view based on a particular political cause or agenda
- Hate news: Sources that promote racism, homophobia, and other forms of bias and discrimination
- Junk Science: Sources that promote scientifically false or dubious claims
- Clickbait: Sources that use sensationalist headlines to get you to click on the link.
- Satire/Parody: Sources use humour and satire to comment upon current affairs.
Fact vs Opinion
In the academic writing section, we discussed fact and opinion. A fact is something supported by evidence, while an opinion is a belief or view that isn't based on facts. Newspapers and other media report facts, but also might have columnists who express opinions. Some columnists might write about their opinions and use facts to justify them. Some columnists take a more ...strident tone and express opinions that aren't really supported by facts - sometimes this can also be presented as fact. Learn the differences:
- is supported by evidence
- can be verified by other sources
- will present both sides of a story
- found in credible and reputable news sources
- expresses a personal viewpoint
- will be supported by facts
- can be debated or argued
- found mostly in newspapers, but also online
- not supported by facts and so cannot be verified
- appeals to emotions and feelings
- will contain gossip, innuendo, rumours and lies
- is biased towards one pint of view
- mostly found on social media and other online sources
How do you spot fake news?
Pretty much using the same techniques as you use to identify the credibility of other sites.
Here's a nice infographic from the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).
What can you do about fake news?
- Learn to recognise fake news sites. Look for:
- Contact details
- An about page
- Any mistakes (usually called "Errata") apologies, or admissions that the publishers got something wrong. For example:
- Look to see if the site follows a code of practice for reporting. Good news sites should have editorial policies and a code of ethics or professional standards. Good news outlets are accountable. Here are some examples:
- Using the Chrome Browser? Right click on an image and select 'Search Google for image'. This will show if the image is a stock image or has been used elsewhere on the web, as opposed to being an image unique to that story.
- Use the SIFT process to investigate news stories that you think are a bit outlandish.
- Before you share share new content on social media, STOP! Pause and think about stories that arouse strong emotions, positive or negative, especially if you agree with their content. If there are comments or replies, then read them; they may refute the story.
- Think about how you feel about topics Do you look for stories that agree with your views? Accept that you (probably) have your own biases and try to compensate for them.
Fake news doesn't admit mistakes and isn't accountable.
How to Spot Fake News by IFLA is licenced under a CC-BY-4.0 licence