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 the Pumpkin Spice Latte causes cancer? 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 LibGuide will give you valuable insight in telling fact from fiction online, plus a chance to exercise your newfound skills.
Is fake news a new phenomenon?
Not at all. In 1835, the New York Sun reported that a British astronomer discovered life on the moon. The term "Fake News" is more modern, and while often used in political stories, it can represent any subject. Even Merriam-Webster dictionary lists the term in their "Words we're watching" column as 125 years old.
Librarians and teachers have been telling students to evaluate news stories for years, but we've been using the term media literacy. Steve Barrett, the Editor-in-Chief of PR Week claims "Media literacy may be the social issue of our time. Addressing it is in our own interest." What do you think?
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.