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Today's News: Separating Fact from Fiction

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Overview

One of the things the Presidential Election Campaign of 2016 may be remembered for is the proliferation of fake news stories. Viral news hoaxes have been around for many years but since 2016 they exploded into the consciousness of the American public.

Did your mother call to tell you that liberals hate science? Did your Facebook feed pop up with an article on a new pesticide that's going to kill us all? Did one of your friends breathlessly tell you that Donald Trump was going to pardon mass shooter Dylann Roof? You might have heard any or all of these stories, but there's one thread connecting all of them: they're not true. (Taken from Indiana East University Library)

Fake news websites are websites that publish hoaxes, propaganda, or disinformation to increase web traffic through sharing on social media. Unlike news satire, where humor is the object, fake news websites seek to increase their traffic by knowingly circulating false stories. Fake news websites have promoted misleading or factually incorrect information concerning the politics of several countries including: Germany, Indonesia and the Philippines, Sweden, China, Myanmar, Italy, France, Brazil, Australia, India, and the United States. Many of the false news sites are hosted in Russia, Macedonia, Romania, and the U.S. ( Definition taken from Wikipedia)

Evaluating information for its credibility and bias and being able to separate fact from fiction has never been more important and is a lifelong skill that is vital in helping you make informed decisions in your everyday life, both personally and professionally. 

Why Should I Care?

  • Fake news hampers an informed citizenry. You deserve the truth. You have every right to be insulted when you read fake news. You are smart enough to make up your own mind. Find the real facts, look at the real facts, and don't allow your self to be treated like an idiot.
  • Fake news destroys your credibility. If your arguments are built on bad information, it will be much more difficult for people to believe you in the future.
  • Fake new has consequences. It can hurt you and a lot of other people. Purveyors of fake and misleading medical advice like Mercola.com and Natural News.com help perpetuate myths like HIV and AIDS aren't related, or that vaccines cause autism. These sites are heavily visited and their lies are dangerous.
  • Real news can benefit you. If you want to buy stock in a company, you want to read accurate articles about that company so you can invest wisely. If you are planning on voting in an election, you want to read valid and factual information on a candidate so you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs. Fake news will not help you make money or make the world a better place, but real news can.

(List adapted from the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library's web page, Help! My News is Fake!)

Professor Melissa Zimdars Explains "Fake News" List

Four Types of News Sources according to Professor Melissa Zimdars

There are four broad categories of news sources, 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, or present opinion pieces as news.
  • Category 3: Websites which sometimes use hyperbolic or clickbait-y headlines and/or social media descriptions, but may otherwise circulate reliable and/or verifiable information.  
  • 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 critically evaluate your sources to determine if they are reliable or not.