Detecting Fake News

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Fake news itself comes in a variety of flavors:
  • Hoax news sites use fabricated or fake stories to lure traffic, encourage clicks (click bait), influence or profit using intentionally deceptive, but highly intriguing, often sensational information. Some Macedonian teens are making good money manufacturing fake news stories!
  • Hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs also share false information with the intention to deceive readers/viewers and play into biases. These sites and blogs are typically designed to appeal to both the left and the right of the political spectrum, and include a mix of real, fake and hyperpartisan stories. Hyperpartisan stories deliberately mix facts with exaggeration, stretch the truth, or include unsubstantiated claims along with factual information. Examples from the right are Freedom Daily, Eagle Rising and Right Wing News. Examples from the left are Addicting Info, Occupy Democrats and The Other 98%

  • Satirical sites present news with a comical, often exaggerated spin.
  • Digitally altered images can misrepresent or exaggerate, and are frequently used to entice people to click on fake or hyperpartisan news stories.
Why it matters:
  • The truth does matter, and inaccurate information can circulate rapidly on social media, crowding out the truth.
  • Fake news can cause great harm to individuals, organization, and businesses. It can be very difficult to right a wrong when misinformation is readily available.
  • Fake news may have had an impact on the 2016 election results. According to a BuzzFeed analysis, "during the critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook."
Is fake news a real problem?
  • A 2016 Stanford University study of 7,800 teenagers found that a large majority of the students surveyed —at times as much as 80 or 90 percent—had trouble judging the credibility of the news they read. 
Key vocabulary:
  • Backfire Effect: The combination of cognitive simplicity and dissonance can lead to this phenomena in which people develop a defensiveness about their views and more emphatically reject information that doesn't match their views, even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
  • Click-Bait: Words or visuals used to prompt click-through to a link, often with paid content.
  • Cognitive Dissonance: The tension that derives from holding conflicting thoughts simultaneously. For most people, it is easier to challenge facts than confront our own deeply-held beliefs.
  • Cognitive Simplicity: Research has shown that our brains process information with a bias toward believing the information we are given. Skepticism does not come naturally, and it requires an extra cognitive step. It is easier to just believe information that we encounter. Brain scans indicate that we get a hit of dopamine in the reward areas of our brains when we process information and accept it.
  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to seek out and believe in the veracity of information that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs.
  • Conflated: Combining multiple texts into one to suggest an unsubstantiated conclusion.
  • Conspiracy: A plot or secret plan to do something unlawful or harmful.
  • Content Farm or Content Mill: A company that employs a staff of freelance writers to create content designed to satisfy search engine retrieval algorithms with the goal of attracting views and advertising revenue.
  • Fact Checking: The act of verifying assertions either prior to publication or after dissemination of the content
  • Hoax: An act intended to trick, deceive or fraud.
  • Impressionable: Easily influenced due to a lack of ability or experience.
  • Native advertising: Paid, sponsored content designed to look like the legitimate content produced by the media outlet.
  • Tribal Unity: Human beings are a social species, who want to signal to others that they can be a trusted and reliable member of group. This means that we feel compelled to agree with others in our group, whether the group is a religious faith, a political party, any other group with a set of unifying and established beliefs.
  • Uncorroborated: Unsupported by other evidence; unsubstantiated.
How to detect fake news:
  • Learn more about the site: Check the About page if you can find one. Look for valid credentials. If it's an unfamiliar news source, do a Google search on that news source to see if the source is legitimate.
  • Study the URL (web address): If the web domain looks legitimate, like abcnews.com.co or abcnews.com.ru (or something similar), please make note that it should most likely end with a .com or a .org, like most sites. If you see a supplemental ending like .ru (Russia) or .co (Columbia), there is a good chance that it's a fake news story.

  • Suspect the sensational: If the headline looks sensational, ridiculous or hard to believe, be skeptical. Look for emotional language and excessive use of capitalization.

  • Triangulate: See if you can verify this story by using a fact checker website or an article from a reliable news source (using library online databases or Google News search). You can also try a google search of the headline. Good fact checker sites include:

One attempt at categorizing media sources (by Vanessa Otero):



Group activity:

Divide into five groups. Each group will spend 10 minutes evaluating these news stories and offer an assessment on the validity of the story. Also, discuss the reasons why people might create fake news stories. Each group will make their claim (true or false) based on the use of the above strategies.






Lesson plans:


Recent Reporting on the Fake News Crisis:
Subpages (2): Case Study 1 Case Study 2
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Armin Heurich,
May 3, 2017, 10:11 AM
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Armin Heurich,
May 30, 2017, 6:21 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Feb 8, 2017, 11:23 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Feb 8, 2017, 11:23 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Feb 8, 2017, 11:23 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Feb 8, 2017, 11:23 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Jan 19, 2017, 7:16 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Jan 19, 2017, 7:16 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Jan 19, 2017, 7:16 AM
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Armin Heurich,
Jun 7, 2017, 8:18 AM
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