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Fake News and Information Literacy: About

Resources to equip students and the general public to identify reliable sources of news and other information.

About Fake News

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Did your mother call you to tell you about that new miracle cure for Alzheimer's disease?  Did your Facebook feed pop up with an article on  a factory farm of pigs intended for human transplant harvesting?  Did one of your friends breathlessly tell you that Sargento Cheese will kill you?  You might have heard any or all of these stories, but there's one thread connecting all of them: they're not true

The ability to tell accurate news from fake news is an important skill that you'll use for the rest of your life.  This Guide will give you valuable insight in telling fact from fiction online, plus a chance to exercise your newfound skills. 

If you find any broken links, please email this Guide owner.

Useful Terms

Alternative Facts: Introduced into our current political discourse by Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to President Trump, as she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's claim about the size of the 2017 inauguration on NBC's Meet the Press

You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. - Kellyanne Conway

Clickbait: something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest. (Merriam Webster)

Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias refers to processing information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one's expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome (Encyclopedia of Social Psychology).

Fake News: Politifact/Punditfact recently provided a definition of fake news in their article "Fact-checking fake news reveals how hard it is to kill pervasive ‘nasty weed’ online."

... [Is] a concerted effort by a website or other form of media to fabricate information in order to influence political opinion or win financial gain. Perhaps the most insidious component of these kinds of hoaxes is that quite often, they simply sound plausible, especially to people who want to believe them. That’s because such stories can frequently be based on a kernel of true information, but portray it out of context or surrounded by made-up details. 

Propaganda: Propaganda is a communicative technique that seeks to manipulate the opinions and attitudes of a targeted audience. It intends to change existing belief systems, value structures, and political positions in order to create specific attitudes toward a subject of public discourse in a manner favorable to the propagandist. Specific messages usually are linked to an overwhelming ideology. Propaganda is directed at a large number of people and thus is communicated by mass media. It can use different media genres, such as speeches, advertisements, editorials, articles, songs, or posters. Propaganda is a function of the political system and strives to gain or defend political power (Encyclopedia of Political Communication). 

PsyOps: A variety of techniques that seek to influence the emotions, attitudes, and behavior of selected audiences in support of political and military objectives. Psychological warfare, also known as psychological operations (PSYOPS), usually connotes nonlethal attempts to gain advantage over the enemy (Encyclopedia of United States National Security). 

Satire: is considered a literary genre; it is often used in the performing arts; and it is used to highlight human folly, vice, abuse, or shortcomings to affect a change in attitude, action, or belief. Thus, satire refers to ridicule or criticism with a moral intention. Commonly, satire is comical although it is not always humorous because the intention is to encourage serious improvement in the lives of the audience. In other words, although satire is often meant to be funny, its purpose is not to merely entertain the audience; the purpose is to specifically condemn the subject by drawing attention to the subject's shortcomings (Encyclopedia of Identity). 

What is "Confirmation bias"?

Personal Bias

  • Bias is a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others, which often results in treating some people unfairly.
  • Explicit bias refers to attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) that we consciously or deliberately hold and express about a person or group. Explicit and implicit biases can sometimes contradict each other.
  • Implicit bias includes attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) about other people, ideas, issues, or institutions that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control, which affect our opinions and behavior. Everyone has implicit biases—even people who try to remain objective (e.g., judges and journalists)—that they have developed over a lifetime. However, people can work to combat and change these biases.
  • Confirmation bias, or the selective collection of evidence, is our subconscious tendency to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, expectations, and/or hypotheses. Therefore, confirmation bias is both affected by and feeds our implicit biases. It can be most entrenched around beliefs and ideas that we are strongly attached to or that provoke a strong emotional response.

What are Confirmation Bias Examples?

Fact-Checking

How to Fact-Check Like a Pro

How to tell a fake

What kinds of fake news exist?

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.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

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Jennifer Evans
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