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Evaluating Information: Vetting Your Sources: Hot Topics: What is Fake News?

This guide equips you with tools to evaluate sources within the, often times overwhelming, information landscape.

Defining the Problem

Though this term has been politicized, fake news is a real problem and represents information that is completely fabricated. There may be bias in mainstream news sources, but this is not the same as intentionally presenting false information.

Usually this takes the form of sites that purport to be major news sites, but are not. For example, abc.co.uk instead of abc.com. Sometimes newer, fringe news organizations rise in popularity and share overwhelmingly biased sources. Some of these will combine false information alongside facts presented in an extremely biased manner.

Information on Echo Chambers

Echo chambers are not just created from being friends with like minded people on social media. Websites customize ads and "news" based on your clicks and likes on social media, Google, and more. These are created by algorithms and can lead to dangerous echo chambers.

Forms of Misleading News

Facts are facts! There are no alternatives.

Defintion of "fact" from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

  •  the quality of being actual 
  • something that has actual existence; an actual occurrence 

The Newsfeed

We have heard a lot about fake news lately, here are just some examples:

While it is important to be aware of the conversations surrounding fake news, it is even more important to understand what this term means, and to also understand that there are many ways that even fact-based news can be biased and misleading. Knowing how to define and differentiate these issues helps us to be informed and engaged citizens.

Tips for Checking News Sources

  1. When you open up a news article in your browser, open a second tab and use it to look up claims, author credentials and organizations that you come across in the article.
  2. Fake news spans across all kinds of media - printed and online articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, radio shows, even still images. 
  3. Always be ready to question everything and to fact check.
  4. Even the best researchers will be fooled once in a while.  If you find yourself fooled by a fake news story, use your experience as a learning tool.

Tips adapted from Indiana University East's Fake News Guide.