When conducting web-based research or even reading for your own personal purposes, it is important to determine fact from fiction. How do you know if a news report is real or a hoax? Not all "fake news" is purposely misleading, but sometimes spreads from those who do not do their due diligence in determining the evidence behind a scientific claim. Read the resources in this section to learn more about determining the credibility of what you read online.
There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.
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 good.
So what can you do to be sure you're only absorbing credible information on the web? Evaluate your sources! There are a multitude of tools you can use to determine the reliability of a source, depending on the source.
The CRAAP Test
The CRAAP test is a method developed by information literacy experts than can be used both on scholarly and popular sources
When considering the credibility of news sources the same CRAAP elements are considered, though bias (or purpose) usually plays a much larger role in the evaluation process. One of the most difficult aspects of detecting an author's purpose is trying to identify any potential biases. An author is biased when their personal beliefs or opinions interfere with his or her ability to impartially report facts. News companies themselves can also be politically, religiously, culturally, or racially biased. Even your own personal bias can interfere in researching responsibly. Confirmation bias occurs when we interpret sources or seek out sources that align with our personal beliefs. Consider the media bias chart below. Do you normally get your online news from a biased source?
Michigan State University has also developed a set of specific questions you can ask yourself to determine credibility as you read news articles specifically.
Critical Thinking Check
So how can you avoid fake news?
- Seek information from trusted news sources, or scholarly research studies
- Evaluate your sources using CRAAP
- Think before sharing on social media
- Use a fact-checking site (see below)
The following sites can help you identify which news stories are factual, based on evidence and source evaluation:
Visit the fake news padlet to see if you can identify which stories are credible
This research assignment requires you to find empirical articles to use in your research. An empirical article is an article from the library databases that presents research that is based on actual observations or experiments conducted by the author.
How can I tell if an article is empirical?
If in doubt, always ask your instructor or a librarian!
Once you find an empirical article, what comes next? Reading the article and synthesizing the information!
The infographic below from journal publisher Elsevier provides some tips for reading and understanding scientific journal articles.
2009. "Disproportionate sales of crime guns among licensed handgun retailers in the United States: a case–control study." Injury Prevention 15, no. 5: 291-299. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 3, 2013). http://mantis.csuchico.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=i3h&AN=44739892&site=eds-live
Which, if any, of the articles below are empirical?