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Digital Citizenship

Fake News?: Module 3 of 9

Learn to recognize common indicators of fake news, understand the consequences of careless sharing, and learn to become a fact-checker.


  • Verify Before You ShareFake News spreads quickly through social media. Be a part of the solution and do a quick fact-check before you share. This module has lots of tools and tips to help you become an expert fact-checker.
  • Check the SourceConsider the origin of the news item, whether it is a website, individual author, or organization. Did the news item list its sources, and are they accurately represented? Check an alternate news source to see if and how they have reported the same item.
  • Check your EmotionsWas your first reaction righteous anger, or gleeful vindication? Fake news headlines, articles, and memes play on your emotions to get clicks and shares.  If you're having a strong emotional response, this is a sign to stop, take a breath, and do some fact-checking.

Related Concepts

Tendancy for internet users to see only news & ideas that they agree with, or have interest in, due to personalization algorithms of search engine results and social media platform feeds (Jon Martindale, Digital Trends).
When we are drawn to information that aligns with our world views and when we hold onto these beliefs, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary (NPR).
Information that is unintentionally false. (Quora, Stack Exchange)
False information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media (Oxford English Dictionary).
Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view (Oxford English Dictionary).
1. An act intended to trick or dupe; 2. something accepted by fraud or fabrication (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief (Oxford English Dictionary).
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 Dictionary).  It is often paid for by the advertiser or generates income based on the number of clicks (Urban Dictionary).
An insular communication space where everyone agrees with the information and no outside input is allowed (Urban Dictionary).

What is Fake News?

Fake News

Fake news is made-up, false information packaged and shared as real news. Fake news:

  • Presents 'facts' that can not be verified, and may be hard to find anywhere else
  • Is usually created to advance a political agenda, for profit, mischief, or attention-seeking
  • Appeals to emotions, hoping you'll be scared or angry enough to share without checking
  • Is usually created by people who are not experts on the topic or even journalists

What is NOT Fake News?

The accusation of 'fake news' is becoming a common way to dismiss any news item that people don't like. In light of this trend, it is more important than ever to understand what is NOT fake news.

Breaking News that is verified and corrected as a situation unfolds may contain factual errors that are later amended. Watch for biased assumptions here. 

Opinion Pieces, Commentary and Editorials should be labeled as it is clear to the reader. These articles may use oversimplification, hypothetical situations, and hyperbole to make their point.

Journalism that makes you uncomfortable, or that clashes with your worldview.

Satire is a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule (

Image created by Sarah Wasko.

Media Bias

Media Bias is not Fake News. Media bias is displayed through the selection of topics, angles, and language to support a general worldview.

Most traditional news media are owned by corporations, or are dependent on advertising revenue; therefore they have a vested interest in promoting certain views and pleasing certain demographic groups.

Detecting this bias is also an important information literacy skill, and you can apply many of the techniques in this guide to help you. Watch for these signs of media bias:

  • žOmitting information, only presenting one side of an issue
  • žFacts, statistics & quotes taken out of context or interpreted narrowly
  • žUsing sensationalism and extreme language to provoke emotions
  • žName-calling, unflattering pictures
  • žMisleading Headlines
  • žDouble-standards on lines of race, gender and class
  • žStating opinions as facts

BEWARE: Some media outlets mix fake news and deliberate misinformation along with truthful (though biased) reports. 

Conspiracy Theories

Fake News has propelled certain Conspiracy Theories into the mainstream.

1. a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.

2. the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.

Fact Checking

Checking Websites for Credibility

  • Methods you use for evaluating academic sources (such as the CRAAP test) can be applied to websites too
  • Examine the URL: fake news sites will mimic the look of a real news site, but the web address will contain clues. Watch for blogging urls, or unusual domain extensions like ''.
  • Check the 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages
  • Take a look at the other articles, ads and content on the site
  • Do a web search with the name of the site and keyword 'fake'

Using Built-In Platform Tools

There is a lot of talk about ways that tech companies can combat fake news, but there are many stumbling blocks. 

Chrome and Mozilla have a variety of browser extensions that try to flag fake news. If you are trying one out, be sure to check what  criteria they use to categorize sites.  Some conspiracy sites have created their own detectors that will flag all main stream media as fake!

It will be interesting to watch this technology develop, but for now, we recommend that you be your own detective!

Consequences of Fake News

An Overview of the Consequences

The sharing of fake news has very real consequences that impact people's lives:

  • Widespread false beliefs can influence voting behaviour, and even election results
  • Many fake news items spread hate, social division, racism, and intolerance
  • Disturbingly, fake news has resulted in the harassment  and threats towards survivors of tragedies, and those who have lost loved ones in tragedies
  • Fake news bolsters science denial, and perpetuates movements such as: anti-vaccination, flat-earthers, climate change denial, and the fight against teaching evolution and sex education in schools

A Canadian Case Study

There is no shortage of material about fake news these days! Though the US is providing a wealth of excellent examples of Fake News, Canada is certainly not immune.

Can you think of some Canadian examples of Fake News?

In late 2015, several chain emails & Facebook posts claimed that refugees received more money than pensioners/veterans/welfare recipients. These claims were circulated widely, and are still being shared today.

This version is a fact-checked mark-up provided by Dr. Silvia D'Addario and York University students for Canadian Council for Refugees.

 a fake news meme about refugees that was debunked.