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Fake News: What It Is, and How To Avoid It: What Is Fake News?

What Is Fake News?

“Fake news” is a term that has come to mean different things to different people. However, one thing is certain: fake news is NOT news that you disagree with!

We define “fake news” as news stories that are false, i.e., the stories are fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources, or quotes.  Sometimes these stories may be propaganda items that are intentionally designed to mislead the reader, or that may be designed as “clickbait” written for economic incentives (such as when the writer profits on the number of people who click on the story). In recent years, fake news stories have proliferated via social media, in part because they are so easily and quickly shared online. (Adapted from University of Michigan Library)

Types of Information Content

Adapted and extended based on the definitions used by Melissa Zimdars' Open Sources project.

  • Fake News: Sources that entirely fabricate information, disseminate disinformation and deceptive content, or grossly distort actual news reports.
  • Misinformation: False information that is spread regardless of an intent to mislead.
  • Disinformation: False claims and information and conspiracy theories that are spread with the intent to mislead.
  • DeepFakes: Use of video software to create events that never happened or distort a person's statements for propaganda purposes or to discredit public figures for political gain. 
  • Satire: Sources that use humor, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, satire, and false information to comment on current events.
  • State-sponsored News: Sources, particularly in repressive or authoritarian states, operating under government sanctions and control that spread disinformation and misinformation. Propaganda.
  • Junk Science: Sources that promote discredited conspiracy theories or scientifically false or dubious claims.
  • Hate News: Sources that actively promote racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of harmful bias and discrimination.
  • Clickbait: Sources that provide generally credible content, but use exaggerated, misleading, or questionable headlines, social media descriptions, and/or images.
  • Political: Sources that provide generally verifiable information in support of certain points of view or political orientations.
  • Credible: Sources that circulate news and information in a manner consistent with traditional and ethical practices in journalism. (Remember: even credible sources sometimes rely on clickbait-style headlines or occasionally make mistakes. No news organization is perfect, which is why a healthy news diet consists of multiple sources of information, especially sources that issue corrections on previous reporting).

Be An Active News Consumer

Be curious.

  • Independently verify the source (by performing a separate search) and independently verify the information (through mainstream news sources and fact-checking sites).

Be reflective.

  • If you have an immediate emotional reaction to a news article or source: pause, reflect, investigate. Exciting and emotional reaction is a primary goal of fake news producers. Do not be part of a viral fake news spiral!

Actively investigate your news sources.

  • Select news sources which are known for high-quality, investigative reporting. Search these sources directly. Don't settle for web search results or social media news feeds. Social media algorithms are designed to present the news that reinforces your current views, not a balanced view.

Look for in-depth coverage.

  • Look for lengthy articles -- long-form reporting -- that better capture the complexity of topics and events. One or two paragraphs is not sufficient. Take a look at this article from Slate as an example.