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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.

Tips

  • 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.

How Fake News Spreads

Why does fake news spread?

What motivates others to share and create fake news?

  • Self-interest: People may create or share to promote their own interests at the expense of others (e.g., gaining other people's private personal information). This includes organizations and individuals who create or share scams, participate in clickbait farming, and individual organizations who create fake information to advance their own agenda.
  • Group interest: Groups may promote their own interests or beliefs as a means of creating a divide in society, such as in content from hyperpartisan sites and groups. For example, these groups can fabricate or manipulate content to discredit people/groups which goes against their interests.
  • Altruism: This is the most common motivation for ordinary users who share content. Some people may believe that a news story is true and share it as a way to help others.
  • Malicious intent: People may be motivated to create and share content that intentionally provokes emotions or undermines someone's authority. Examples include trolls, extremists, and conspiracy theorists.

Source: News Literacy Project: Exploring the misinformation landscape

Other Resources

What is the impact of media bias on fake news?

Media bias falls on a spectrum. News stories can be classified as less/more biased instead of simply biased/unbiased. Although media bias is not fake news, consuming news from media sources which only agree with our worldviews could prevent us from getting a balanced perspective of an issue.  

When identifying bias in news stories, we can look out for these signs: reporting tone, framing of the story, omission of relevant sources, choice of stories being reported on, and the lack of fairness/balance in reporting.

These are some of the common types of bias in news reporting:

  • Partisan Bias: Bias where the news author's political views influence the news coverage.
  • Neutrality Bias: This may occur when a news outlet tries so hard to be neutral in their news coverage to the point that they start to misrepresent facts.
  • Demographic Bias: Bias where demographics, such as race, gender or economic status, may impact the coverage of the news.
  • "Big story" bias: Can occur when a journalist becomes too focused on a major developing story leading them to miss reporting on key information.
  • Corporate bias: Bias where a news outlet's decision to report a news story is influenced by the business or advertising interests of the news source or their parent company.

Source: News Literacy Project: Understanding bias - A nuanced approach to a vital news literacy topic

Other Resources

Impact and Future of Fake News

What is the impact of sharing fake news?

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

Other Resources

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.

How will deepfake technology impact fake news?

Learn more:

What is Fake News?

Categories

Click on the plus signs (+) to get more information about different types of fake news.

Fake News

The term "fake news" can be a problematic term. It can easily be politicized and used as a weapon and to undermine news sources which may not agree with one's beliefs. Instead, the terms misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information may be better used to describe the many facets of fake news.

  • Misinformation is information that is false, but the person who is disseminating it believes that it is true.
  • Disinformation is information that is false, and the person who is disseminating it knows it is false. It is a deliberate, intentional lie, and points to people being actively disinformed by malicious actors.
  • Mal-information is information, that is based on reality, but used to inflict harm on a person, organization or country. An example is a report that reveals a person’s sexual orientation without public interest justification.

A Venn diagram with two circles- one labelled “false” and the other labelled “intent to harm.” In the “false” circle is Misinformation, which includes false connection and misleading content. In the “intent to harm” circle is Mal-information, which includes (some) leaks, (some) harassment, and (some) hate speech. In the section where the two circles overlap is dis-information, which includes false content, imposter content, manipulated content, and fabricated content.

Adapted from: "Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation: Handbook for Journalism Education and Training" by UNESCO is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

"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). Some sample phrases/headlines which typically indicate clickbait are: "you won't believe what happens next", "the secret they don't want you to know", "this will shock you!".
"The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories." (Lexico)
"A video of a person in which their face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else, typically used maliciously or to spread false information." (Lexico)
"An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered." (Lexico)
"A situation in which an internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience." (Lexico)
"A humorous or malicious deception." (Lexico)
"False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive." (Lexico)
"Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." (Lexico)
"The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." (Lexico)

What is not fake news?

Labelling a news story as "fake news" have been used by others as a way to dismiss stories which don't agree with their beliefs or values. The following are examples of what is generally not considered as fake news:

  • Breaking News could sometimes contain factual errors which are later corrected as more information becomes available about the story. In some cases, there may also be some bias in the way a story is reported. 
  • Opinion Pieces, Commentary and Editorials are articles which contain an author's view of a topic. Authors may use oversimplification, hypothetical situations, and exaggerated claims to make their point.
  • Journalism that makes you uncomfortable are stories which may not agree with one's belief or worldview.
  • Satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. (Lexico)

Identifying Fake News

Lateral vs. Vertical Reading

From the context of fake news, vertical reading involves examining the news source to determine the credibility of a news story. This could mean examining a news website's About Us page, looking at grammatical errors within the article, determining the author's bias, and checking the sources the authors used. However, depending solely on vertical reading can be problematic since content is easily created and fabricated online.

In addition to using vertical reading, another method of evaluating news is lateral reading. This involves going beyond the news source and performing further research on the news source, its authors, and information being presented in the news story.

Source: Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information - open in a new window

Tips for Reading Laterally

  • Investigate the Source Look at what others are telling you about the news source/author and not what they're saying about themselves. Tip: Search the source and author's name to see what types of sites are referencing them or what they're saying about them.
  • Go Upstream: Find the Original Source Trace back to the original reporting source of the data or information. Once you've figured out the original source, you can then proceed with verifying its credibility.
  • Look for Trusted Sources Check out fact-checking sites (see the Check your news tab for examples) to see if these sites have checked the news story. Fact-checking sites can save you time since they have already done the verification work. Consider traditional news sources, such as newspapers. If you're unsure about a news story found in a source you're not familiar with, you can search online to see if the story has been covered by major news sources.
  • Practice "Click Restraint" Before clicking on a search result, examine the URL and information snippets about the source.

Sources: Online Verification Skills with Mike Caulfield - open in a new window; Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information - open in a new window

Learn more:

What are Filter Bubbles?

Filter bubbles are created by algorithms and dictate what we see online. These personalized filters may be based on a combination of different elements, such as our search history, the websites we visited, the posts we comment on, or our location. These algorithms impact the content of our "information diet".

As users, we don't have much control on what gets into our filter bubble, and more importantly we don't know what gets edited out by these algorithms. Filter bubbles could feed us an information diet with mostly "information desserts" and not much "information vegetables". It poses the danger of intellectual isolation where we only see information that reinforces our views, or information that is within our comfort zones. This could potentially hinder our ability to think critically about a topic since algorithms have the power to edit out content which challenges or broadens our worldviews.

Sources: Beware Online "Filter Bubbles" by Eli Pariser; How News Feed Algorithms Supercharge Confirmation Bias by Eli Pariser

Tips for Breaking Out of Your Bubble

  • Follow Different Voices Get a balanced information diet by seeking different perspectives of a topic, such as viewing sites that cover diverse perspectives or viewing social media feeds that offer a more balanced viewpoint.
  • Go Incognito Use incognito browsers, regularly delete your search histories, and if possible, try to use the Internet without being logged into social media accounts.
  • Delete Cookies Browser cookies are files saved into our browsers which determines what we see on a particular website. Consider deleting your cookies in your browser(s) frequently.

Verify news/websites

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 '.com.co'.
  • 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'

Tools - Fact Checking Websites

Fact-checking websites can be useful tools in determining if a news story is accurate. These sites perform the fact-checking by reviewing the story's claims and verifying the validity of the information and authors. Check out some of these fact-checking websites.

Verify images

Tools

Reverse Image Search Tools: find for the origins of an image by uploading or linking to the image:

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 - open in a new tab 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 mainstream media as fake!

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

Resources