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Fake News: Separating Truth From Fiction: 3. Identifying Fake News & Bad Information

Become Information Literate

News literacy is part of a much broader skill called information literacy.  The ability to identify authority and experts, inquiring and seeking answers from multiple sources, and learning to use the right tools for finding information are skills of lifelong importance.  Below are boxes with tips for evaluating web sites and information in general, as well as more specific tips for evaluating news.

Evaluating Websites

Evaluation Criteria (ABCs) for Choosing an Appropriate Website

  • Authority (author, editor, and publisher)

    What work or educational experiences does the author have?

    • Is the author an expert in the field?

    • With which institution, organization or company is the author affiliated?

    • What other information can you find out about the author?

    • Where is the document published? Check the URL domain.

      • Ex: .gov, .edu, .org, .com

  • Bias

    • What is the purpose of the website?

      • Inform, entertain, persuade or sell a product

      • Is information presented objectively or does it have a bias?

        • If it has a bias (a specific political or philosophical view), does that lessen its usefulness to you?

  • Currency

    • When was the website published?

    • When was the website last updated?

      • How many dead links are on the page?

    • Is the information new or is it outdated?

    • Does your topic value older material as well as current?

  • Content

    • Does the author use citations, references, or a bibliography to verify their information?

    • Has the information been reviewed?

    • Is the information free of spelling and grammatical errors?

    • Is there a way to contact the author (email, address or phone number)?

  • Consistency

    • Is the information consistent with what other sources are saying about the topic?

    • Does the source match what you know about the topic?

    • Is this the only source you can find that is reporting this information?

Tips For Identifying Fake News

Michigan State University has some excellent tips on how to spot fake news.  The full video is worth watching, but for a quick overview of their tips check the list below:

Michigan State's Quick Check

  1. Check the website name and domain.  Fake sites often have a .co in the domain, ex. http://abcnews.com.co/
  2. Spelling & Grammar.  Are there multiple errors or does it look professionally edited?
  3. Author Attribution: Is an author listed? Are there links to their profile and credentials? Anonymous articles generally should be avoided.
  4. Emotional Manipulation: Do you feel emotions by simply reading the headline?

Michigan State's Critical Thinking Check

  1. Statement of Ethics - Most reputable news sites have a Statement of Ethics.  View the New York Times Statement here
  2. Corrections - Again, reputable sites have a Corrections section or policy.  See USA Today's Corrections.
  3. Named Sources, Studies etc. - Does the article name a source or study for its information?
  4. Identify Editorials vs News - Reputable news sources clearly identify editorials, which as we know are just someone's opinion.
  5. Check A Reporter's Body of Work - Does the reporter have a large body of work? Do they generally cover the same topic(s), or do the topics seem to be random or erratic?
  6. Verify Information Using Multiple Sources: This is a good habit for all research.  Make sure you can find more than one reputable source reporting the same information.

 

How To Spot Fake News Handout