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Waidner-Spahr Library

Social Media: Fake News

What is "Fake News?"

"Fake news" refers to news articles or other items that are deliberately false and intended to manipulate the viewer. While the concept of fake news stretches back to antiquity, it has become a large problem in recent years due to the ease with which it can be spread on social media and other online platforms, as people are often less likely to critically evaluate news shared by their friends or that confirms their existing beliefs. Fake news is alleged to have contributed to important political and economic outcomes in recent years. 

This page presents strategies for detecting fake news and researching the topic through reliable sources so you can draw your own conclusions. The most important thing you can do is to recognize fake news and halt its dissemination by not spreading it to your social circles. 

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What are Social Media Platforms Doing?

Several social media platforms have responded to the rise in fake news by adjusting their news feeds, labeling news stories as false or contested, or through other approaches. Google has also made changes to address the problem. The websites below explain some of the steps these platforms are taking. These steps can only go so far, however; it's always the responsibility of the reader to question and verify information found online. 

Recognizing Fake News

You've all seen fake news before, and it's easy to recognize the worst examples. 

Fake news is often too good to be true, too extreme, or too out of line with what you know to be true and what other news sources are telling you. The following suggestions for recognizing fake news are taken from the NPR story Fake News Or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts

  1. Pay attention to the domain and URL: Reliable websites have familiar names and standard URLs, like .com or .edu. 
  2. Read the "About Us" section: Insufficient or overblown language can signal an unreliable source. 
  3. Look at the quotes in a story: Good stories quote multiple experts to get a range of perspectives on an issue.
  4. Look at who said them: Can you verify that the quotes are correct? What kind of authority do the sources possess?
  5. Check the comments: Comments on social media platforms can alert you when the story doesn't support the headline.
  6. Reverse image search: If an image used in a story appears on other websites about different topics, it's a good sign the image isn't actually what the story claims it is. 

If in doubt, contact a librarian for help evaluating the claim and the source of the news using reliable sources. 

Strategies for Combatting Fake News

  1. Be aware of the problem: Many popular sources, particularly online news sources and social media, are competing for your attention through outlandish claims, and sometimes with the intent of manipulating the viewer
  2. Think critically: Critically evaluate news that you encounter. If it sounds too good (or sometimes too bad) to be true, it probably is. Most fake news preys on our desire to have our beliefs confirmed, whether they be positive or negative
  3. Check facts against reliable sources: When you encounter a claim in the news, particularly if it sets off alarm bells for you, take the time to evaluate the claim using reputable sources including library databases, fact checking websites like Snopes.com or PolitiFact, and authoritative news sources like the New York Times (click for instructions on registering an account) and the BBC. While established news sources can also be wrong from time to time, they take care to do extensive fact checking to validate their articles
  4. Stop the spread of fake news: You can do your part in halting the spread of fake news by not spreading it further on social media, through email, or in conversation

Real or Fake?

Is this news item real or fake? Try evaluating it using the tips presented on this page.

Story 1 (November 2011): SHOCK - Brain surgeon confirms ObamaCare rations care, has death panels!

 

right arrowClick here to reveal the answer

Is this news item real or fake? Try evaluating it using the tips presented on this page.

Story 2 (January 2017): The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned

 

right arrowClick here to reveal the answer

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How Social Media Spreads Fake News

Social media is one of the main ways that fake news is spread online. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to share trending news without taking the time to critically evaluate it.

People are also less likely to critically evaluate news shared by their friends, so misleading news stories end up getting spread throughout social networks with a lot of momentum.

Read the articles below to get a better understanding of how social media can reinforce our preexisting beliefs and make us more likely to believe fake news.