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Fact Check: How to decipher online news and information: Protect Yourself from Fake News

Media literacy

Media literacy is not a new term, but it is not as generally well known as information literacy.  Media literacy relates to the ability to identify, use, and create news through different media outlets.  It also comes with an inherent responsibility for the news consumer to scrutinize a news source for credibility and reliability.  How can you do this?  This can be accomplished by becoming a critical news consumer and learning how to trust, share, and act upon news responsibly.  

Become a critical news consumer

Here are some steps you can take to become a critical news consumer:

Determine what type of article you are reading 

Is it an editorial or opinion piece?  These articles reflect the author's personal beliefs and point of view.  Untrustworthy sources can blur the line between reporting the facts and expressing opinions.  Be sure to read carefully.  

Lateral reading 

Verify what you are reading by leaving that site and looking up the information on other sites. Is the general consensus agreeing with the original resource, or are you finding conflicting reports? Not only research the content but look up the author and publisher to see if they are considered a reputable site.   

Pop your filter bubble 

People can unintentionally surround themselves with others and information sources that share their perspective.  Social media algorithms perpetuate this problem by tracking stories you like and people you follow. They then fill your feed with ads and stories that you are already inclined to agree with and like. This tendency to believe in information and stories you already agree with is called confirmation bias. You can pop your filter bubble and lose your confirmation bias by visiting sites with a different opinions and biases.   

Look into opposing views 

Look into sources that you normally do not check or that hold opposing viewpoints to your own.  You cannot defend a position without understanding the contradicting views.    

Look into the editorial staff 

News sources must hold themselves accountable for the information they provide.  One way they do that is by hiring a diverse and qualified editorial staff.  A diversified staff allows a news source to check and balance their stories to make sure the information they are reporting is unbiased. Sources with an editorial staff like this demonstrate respect for the reader and a desire to provide a quality service.  You should be able to research those editors to find more information about their backgrounds and beliefs. 

Find the original sources 

Many fake or biased sites use previously published stories that have been edited and manipulated to fit their biased views.  Look for those original articles to determine the true context.  This is also very helpful when it comes to quotations.  Quotes can be easily manipulated by dropping leading sentences and using them out of context. 

Share Responsibly 

This goes beyond just not sharing news stories until you have determined they are genuine, but also not sharing fake news.  When you share a piece of fake news you are raising its publicity and advertisement revenues. 

Beware of native advertising 

Native advertisements are designed to look like the rest of the page but are actually paying for their content to be displayed.  They are trying to get readers to mistake their links as legitimate news to get more traffic to their site. 

Check the Contact us page

Trustworthy news sites will provide information about their organization and provide a clear way to contact them. They should be transparent and forthright with this information. Fake sites will try to hide this information or provide false contact numbers and emails. Test the numbers or look up the address if you are still unsure.

Check out the author 

Look at the reporter’s byline.  Does anything stand out as odd?  Look into it; you should be able to access at least a brief biography for the reporter. 

Check out the ads

A profusion of pop-up ads, advertisements for items or services that seem out of touch with the story, or highly provocative or erotic advertisements can be a warning sign. 

On-line fact checking sites

There are many online sites that will double-check information for accuracy or evaluate the bias of publishers. Here are just a few you can try out:

Evaluating resources

As we have seen, information on the Internet can take many forms and come from a variety of sources. Critical news consumers need to be able to review this information to determine who is writing it, who is publishing it, why it was written, and assess the content of the piece.  To do this, you must be able to evaluate your sources. 

Explore the Library's Evaluating Resources guide for useful information on evaluating websites and evaluation methods. 

Verify Images

Often fake news sites will re-use old photos and publish them out of context to trick readers.  However, there are ways to determine if an image is being accurately represented. ​Here is a way you can verify the true source of an image:

  1. Right click on the image.
  2. Select Copy image address.
  3. Go to Google and select Images from the top right corner.
  4. You will get the Google Search box with a camera icon.  Click on the camera icon,and paste the image address in the Paste image URL box.
  5. This will bring up a list of results showing where that image has been published on the internet.

Here is a brief video on how to do an image search:

How to Verify Images with Google Images

(1 min 2 sec) Recorded April 2017