Real vs. Fake News: How To Avoid Lies, Hoaxes, and Clickbait and Find the Truth
About this guide
This guide provides information about inaccurate, misleading, and satirical “news” sites, as well as links to reliable sources of news, and tools for evaluating the information you find online.
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Fake News in the News
Check out these articles and podcasts for more information about fake news:
- Facebook Fake-News Writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’
- Flash Forward Podcast: Extra Extra
- On Point Podcast: The Origins and Implications of Fake News
- Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors
- Stanford Researchers Find Students Have Trouble Judging the Credibility of Information Online
- This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook
- Washington gunman motivated by fake news ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy
How Do Search Engines and Social Media Sites Aid the Proliferation of Fake and Biased News?
Clickbait fuels the dissemination of fake news and filter bubbles (or “echo chambers”) create a lack of variety in the information and ideas to which individuals are exposed.
What is Clickbait?
Oxford Living Dictionaries defines clickbait as “(on the Internet) content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.”
What are Filter Bubbles?
A filter bubble or echo chamber is the result of website algorithms designed to determine which content you want to see and which you don’t, based on your past behavior and other information about you. Over time, the web content you see represents an increasingly narrow range of information and ideas, and you are exposed to fewer and fewer experiences, ideologies, and perspectives that differ from yours.
For more information about echo chambers and filter bubbles, watch this TED Talk by Eli Pariser:
How to Avoid Fake and Biased News in Three Easy Steps
1. Know Which “News” Sites are Fake or Biased
Several scholars and journalists have compiled lists of fake news sites. Here are some of the best:
- False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources A comprehensive list of unreliable “news” sources, created by Professor Melissa Zimdars. See Zimdars’s original document for “Tips For Analyzing News Sources,” and read the Chronicle of Higher Education interview with her for more information about the project, and the response to it.
- Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News) “Dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practice,” MBFC categorizes dozens of news sources based on their bias. The website also includes lists of reliable sources of scientific information, unreliable pseudoscience sources, and satirical sources.
2. Know How To Spot Common Features of Fake News Articles
With practice, you can learn to recognize features of fake news articles such as: strange URLs; authors with a history of writing fake or misleading news; provocative or inflammatory headlines; article content that doesn’t reflect the headline; outdated information being presented as current information; lack of verifiable sources; poor grammar; and pictures or quotes that are untraceable.
Use the tips in the articles below to help you practice looking for these things. See the “Evaluating Sources” page of this guide for more tips.
- Facts vs. Fiction vs. Opinions: How to Tell the Difference?
- How to Recognize a Fake News Story
- Don’t Be Fooled: Use the SMELL Test To Separate Fact from Fiction Online
- How to Spot Fake News
- Here’s How to Outsmart Fake News in Your Facebook Feed
If you have a Facebook account report any fake news you find in your feed, to encourage Facebook to block it. This article shows you how.
3. Understand the Tendency for Your Social Media Feed and Google Search Results to Become an Echo Chamber and Make a Habit of Seeking Out a Wider Variety of Voices
An echo chamber or filter bubble is the result of website algorithms designed to determine which content you want to see and which you don’t, based on your past behavior and other information about you. Over time, the web content you see represents an increasingly narrow range of information and ideas, and you are exposed to fewer and fewer experiences, ideologies, and perspectives that differ from yours.
To see filter bubbles in action:
- Watch the video on the “Home” page of this guide for more information about filter bubbles.
- Explore this interactive graphic created by The Wall Street Journal demonstrates how Facebook feeds differed for liberals and conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. The Vox article How Social Media Creates Angry, Poorly Informed Partisans elaborates on this phenomenon.
- If you have your own Facebook account, you can follow the instructions in this article from The New York Times to find out how Facebook has labeled your politics.
To get out of your own filter bubble, try using these strategies:
- Disable Google’s Personalized Search: Click “Settings” on the lower right of the Google search page, and select “History” from the menu. Click on “Activity Controls” from the left menu, then uncheck the box next to “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services.”
- Seek Out Information From A Range of Credible Sources: Start by exploring some of the sources on the “Finding Reliable News” page of this guide. To get a better sense of the range of opinions on a news topic, use AllSides, a news services that “exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant.”
- Try The Tips In These Articles:
Using Library Databases to Find Reliable News
The Luria Library subscribes to several databases that include reliable newspapers, news magazines, and broadcast news transcripts. Keep in mind that these sources will include opinions as well as facts. Use the strategies on the “Evaluating Sources” page to help you determine the purpose and accuracy of specific articles you find.
To access these resources from off campus, you will need to log in with your Pipeline username and password:
- AP NewsMonitor Collection Provides access to top world-wide news from Associated Press for the past 30 days.
- Ethnic NewsWatch Includes journals, magazines, and newspapers from ethnic and minority presses.
- National Newspapers Expanded Provides the full text of several of the most read and widely-respected newspapers in the U.S: New York Times; Los Angeles Times; Wall Street Journal; Christian Science Monitor; Washington Post; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and USA Today.
- Newspaper Source Plus Provides the full text of articles from more than 1,210 newspapers, more than 130 newswires, nearly 50 news magazines, and provides more than 1.4 million TV & Radio News Transcripts.
Reliable News Websites
The following news websites are generally considered to be reliable and unbiased. Keep in mind that some articles may present opinions as well as fact.
- The Center for Public Integrity One of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
- Christian Science Monitor An independent international news organization that seeks to give readers the information they need to come to their own conclusions.
- Reuters An international news agency headquartered in London.
Using Fact Checkers
Fact checkers research news stories and other information found on the internet to determine their accuracy. If you’re not sure whether the information you found is accurate, try searching these fact checking websites to see what they say about it:
- FactCheck.org A nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.
- PolitiFact A Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics.
- Snopes.com A website that researches and determines the history and accuracy of internet rumors, urban legends, and other stories.
- Washington Post Fact Checker A blog and newspaper column that determines the accuracy of the statements of political figures regarding important issues, and seeks to explain difficult issues, provide missing context, and provide analysis of efforts to obscure or shade the truth.
Check It Yourself
The P.R.O.V.E.N. Test for Evaluating Sources can help you determine whether the sources you find are credible. Ask yourself these questions about the sources you find:
- Purpose: The reason the information exists. Is the purpose to sell, to entertain, to inform, to teach, or to persuade? Do the authors and publishers/sponsors make their purposes clear? Is this source designed for general readers or academic readers?
- Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs. Does it relate to your topic? Does it meet the requirements of your assignment? Is it too basic or too advanced?
- Objectivity: The reasonableness of the information. Is it fact or opinion? Is it biased? Do the authors use strong or emotional language, or leave out important facts or alternative perspectives?
- Verifiability: The truthfulness and accuracy of the information. Where does the information come from? Can you verify it in other sources? Are there citations or links to other sources? What do experts say about the topic?
- Expertise: The source of the information. Who are the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the information? Are they experts, or has the information been reviewed by experts? Is it posted on a personal website or blog?
- Newness: The timeliness of the information. When was the information published or posted? Is it up to date? Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as technology or current events), or will older sources work as well?
Below are some resources for creating citations for sources found on the internet and through library databases. More resources are available on the Citation Guides page.