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

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.

Defining "Fake"

What makes a news story fake?

Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word of the Year: Post-truth

post-truth, adjective 

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective  facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals  to emotion and personal belief.

Oxford Dictionaries recently announced post-truth as its 2016 Word of the Year. The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word or expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language.  While the concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, there has been a spike in its frequency due to the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase ‘post-truth politics.'  

Fake News, Alternative Facts, and Post-Truth, Oh My!

Have you recently had a close friend or family member shock you with any of the following stories or information?

You might have heard any or all of these stories; however, there is one thing that connects all of them: they're not true.

The ability to discern accurate news and information from fake news and misinformation is a critical skill that you will use for the rest of your life.  This LibGuide will give you valuable insight into telling fact from fiction online. 

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.

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. Install a browser extension that identifies stories from sites that produce clickbait, fake news, and other suspect stories.

4. Help debunk fake news.

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

6. 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.


English Oxford Living Dictionaries. (n.d.). Word of the year 2016 [Video file]. Retrieved from

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

Indiana University East Campus Library. (2017). Categories of fake news. Retrieved from

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

William H. Hannon Library. (2017). Fight fake news. Retrieved from

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