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Fake News

“Fake news” has been around for a long, long time.  It is also one facet of “library instruction” that we have been fighting for years—that most people don’t take the time to read or comprehend something.  They read what they want to read and move on to the next thing.  Very few people stop and actually think, which has been made much worse by the Internet and social media.  “Information” is coming at us too quickly.  This topic is also a facet of Evaluating Internet Information--it's not just news, but anything you find online.

When you hear the phrase "fake news", what comes to mind?  What do you think it is?  Who uses the term?  Why do you think they use it?  Is it less "fake" and more a story they would prefer you not to believe or follow?  Or a story that is deliberately misleading? One definition of fake news is "news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers" (Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, 2016).

This 2-part video (about 46 minutes total) available through NMU, Fake News, explains the topic and provides steps to take to check a news source.

From the BBC, January 2018, is a short article The (almost) complete history of 'fake news' (do you remember the stories they write about?  Did you believe them when you first heard of them?).

How about altered video?  That is also becoming (more) common.

And what about fake "news outlets" posing as some kind of real news source?  The Lansing State Journal (which is legitimate) has a story about news outlets appearing to be local but are not.  They are full of political propoganda.

Media and Fact Checking Resources

AllSides. Since 2012.  Focusing only on American news sources.  Rates news sources as Left, Center, and Right.  It is amusing to read the different headlines of a story under these different news outlets.

Media Bias/Fact Check. Since 2015. Dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.  Rates sources as Left Bias, Left-Center Bias, Least Biased, Right-Center Bias, Right Bias, Pro-Science, Conspiracy-Pseudoscience, Questionable Sources, Satire, and re-evaluates sources.  They have a list of fact-checking websites that is being reproduced below verbatim (because it's a good list):

  • PolitiFact– PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida.  PolitiFact is simply the best source for political fact checking.  Won the Pulitzer Prize.
  • FactCheck– is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.  They are a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. They monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.  FactCheck is similar to Politifact in their coverage, and they provide excellent details.  The only drawback is they lack the simplicity of Politifact.
  • Open Secrets– Open Secrets is nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, which is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.  Open Secrets are by far the best source for discovering where candidates get their money, and how much.  They also track lobbying groups and whom they are funding.
  • Snopes– Snopes has been the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation for a long time.  Snopes is also usually the first to report the facts.
  • The Sunlight Foundation– The Sunlight Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the tools of civic tech, open data, policy analysis and journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all.  Sunlight primarily focuses on money’s role in politics.
  • Poynter Institute– The Poynter Institute is not a true fact checking service.  They are however a leader in distinguished journalism and produce nothing but credible and evidence based content.  If Poynter reports it, you can count on it being true.
  • FlackCheck– Headquartered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, is the political literacy companion site to the award-winning The site provides resources designed to help viewers recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular.
  • Truth or Fiction– Very similar to Snopes.  They tend to focus more on political rumors and hoaxes.
  • Hoax Slayer– Another service that debunks or validates internet rumors and hoaxes.
  • Fact Checker by the Washington Post– The Washington Post has a very clear left-center bias and this is reflected in their fact checks.  Their fact checks are excellent and sourced; however their bias is reflected in the fact that they fact check right wing claims more than left.   Otherwise the Washington Post is a good resource.

Here is a PDF worksheet, "How to Identify Fake News in 10 Steps".  Other than for a class assignment, do you really look this critically at a news story?

During conversations, when your friends drop some news story in your lap  that you think, to put it kindly, “doesn’t sound right”, call them on it: ask them to source the story.  This could lead to a spirited conversation on the merits of where information comes from.  Or not.  They might get angry that you caught them in forwarding dubious "information". 

In 1995, the late Carl Sagan wrote a book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  One of the chapters is The Fine Art of Baloney Detection (summarized here; the chapter itself is here).  The book and these links are well worth reading, but from that chapter comes a "baloney detection kit"--tools for skeptical thinking.

The bottom line?  Think.  Be skeptical and have patience. Check something that sounds fishy.  You need "a shock-proof, built-in BS detector" for information, to steal a quote widely attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

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