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Misinformation & Fake News

A guide to discerning fake news sources, including articles, videos, and links to other resources.

What is "fake news," or misinformation?

What does "fake news" mean?

This guide is introduce how fake news has evolved, how it spreads, and how to recognize, avoid, and refute it as much as possible. Examples of fake news sites bearing the hallmarks listed below may be found in this CBS News gallery. The term "fake news" is used to mean disseminated information or material that is one or more of following:

  • Blatantly, intentionally false
  • Hyperpartisan (displaying extreme political bias)
  • Severely lacking in credible attribution or supporting evidence
  • Old, verified news presented or repackaged as brand-new
  • Satirical or patently absurd (The Onion is a prime example)

Watch out for misapplications of the phrase "fake news" applied to settings to discredit news sources or information that is actually true. "Fake news" was used by Donald Trump frequently before and during his presidency to attempt to discount news outlets, press, or information he didn't like, but was real, legitimate, and not "fake" news. He used the phrase "fake news" 979 times on Twitter before his account was suspended in January 2021.   

Alternative terms you may hear in relation to inaccurate information sharing:

  • Misinformation is information that is inaccurate but not necessarily with a maliciously intent.
  • Disinformation encompasses deliberately false or misleading information, often with an intent to manipulate, control, or confuse. Strategic disinformation is often organized and capitalizes on automated search tools to increase it's viewership. 

In any conversation about evaluating information, it's important to recognize that we are all susceptible to believing false information. This is not the problem of any one class or section of society. While education plays a major role in determining an individual's ability to analyze information, people of all education background are made vulnerable to fake news by their own biases. Confirmation bias refers to the human tendency to seek out information that supports one's existing beliefs, and to reject, ignore, downplay, or reinterpret information that contradicts them (Heshmat, 2015). Because of this phenomenon, it often takes more effort to refute fake news that matches your beliefs.

Recognizing Fake News

"How to Spot Fake News," a brief article from by Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson, provides some good tips on spotting fake news. Tips from the article include:

  • Examine the site's URL for oddities.
    • For example: mimics the real ABC News website, but .co is the domain code for the country of Columbia. A guide to Internet domain codes may be found here.
  • If it seems like a joke, it probably is.
    • Most satire news either features specific disclaimers about what it is or includes other obvious clues, like a source or author name that cannot be taken seriously. If unsure, follow the story back to its source and consider that source's array of stories as a whole.
  • Check the authorship.
    • If an author is listed, you should be able to check his/her credentials. One way of doing this is by searching for the author on LinkedIn.
  • Read multiple sources.
    • Search for the same story coming from other sources. Stories of more than very local or specialized importance are usually reported or commented on by more than one source; professional news is a very competitive industry.
  • Scan for spelling/grammatical errors.
    • A story coming from a legitimate source may have one or two that got away from the editor, but they may be rife in a fake story. This is partly due to a lot of fake news being generated internationally.
  • Scan for language that deals heavily in superlatives and extreme figures of speech.
    • A dead giveaway is the use of ALL CAPS, as respectable news sources only make use of it on rare occasions, such as in the context of a quote.
  • Check links.
    • A fake news writer may throw in a few to reputable sources, possibly assuming that most readers won't bother to investigate further. Clicking on these links may show them to be broken or leading back to another source without going directly to the page or story cited.

Tutorials on News Evaluation

Fact Checking Strategies: Four Moves and a Habit

Fact checking information is something anyone can do. It does take time, but fact-checking before you share may save you and others a lot of headache later if the fact seems unclear or questionable. While there are many fact-checking strategies you can use, one of our favorites comes from Michael Caufield's Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers. He calls them:

4 Moves and a Habit

Here's how Caufield describes what those moves and a habit look like:

  1. Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  2. Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  3. Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  4. Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

The habit is to check your emotions while checking the facts. If you've ever felt charged up about a specific issue or experience a strong emotional reaction when you read a headline, congratulations, you're a human! We all have biases and worldviews we bring with us to reviewing and evaluating information. Being conscious of those emotions is helpful when fact-checking because it can help us stay focus on what we're really looking for: the facts.  


Read the book for more detail and examples on applying these strategies.

Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael A. Caufield.

Four Moves and a Habit Infographic