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News Literacy & Alternative Facts: How to Be a Responsible Information Consumer

Feeling overwhelmed by unreliable news and information? The library is here to help!

The Problem with Fake News and Misinformation

  1. You deserve the truth.  You are smart enough to make up your own mind - as long as you have the real facts in front of you.  You have every right to be upset when you read fake news.
  2. Fake news can hurt you and a lot of other people.  Purveyors of fake medical advice like and can help perpetuate myths such as that HIV and AIDS aren't related or that vaccines cause autism.  These sites are heavily visited, and their lies are dangerous.
  3. Real news can benefit you. If you are writing a research paper, your professor will expect you to vet your sources. If you are planning on voting in an election, you want to read reliable information on a candidate so that you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs.  Fake news will not help you get a good grade or make the world a better place: real news can.

Source: Free Press Pics. (n.d.). Invasion of fake news [Online image].

Defining "Fake"

What makes a news story fake?

Source: Indiana University East Campus Library. (2017). What makes a news story fake [Graphic].

Categories of Fake News

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

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 reliable.  However, the resources below can be a good starting point in determining if your source is unreliable.
Source: Indiana University East Campus Library. (2017). Categories of fake news.

Combat Fake News

Are you concerned with the increase in fake news and misinformation?  As a producer and consumer of information, you can make a difference.  Here are 6 ways you can make a difference NOW by evaluating and engaging.

1. Think before you share. Read the entire piece, not just the headline, before you decide whether or not to share.

2. Verify an unlikely story.  Check to see if other reliable news sources are reporting the same story.  Snopes and Politifact can also be useful in determining the veracity of a claim or story.

3. Help debunk fake news.

4. Rethink your news diet. Expand your information network to include diverse perspectives from quality sources.

5. Think critically about your sources.  While technology can be useful in identifying fake news and misinformation, you shouldn't rely solely on online tools.  These tools can still fall victim to human error and bias.

Source: William H. Hannon Library. (2017). Fight fake news.

Created By:

Alicia Vaandering, 2/2017

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.