Sunday, 21 October 2018

Sniffing out fake news

Sniffing out fake news
24 Sep

Last week, we talked about clickbait and how responding to (clicking on) clickbait links will likely get you marked as open to scams and other misinformation, including fake news.

So what is the danger in fake news and why should you care?

First, let’s look at what fake news is. Wikipedia ( explains the background of both the term and the phenomenon.

Before we delve into the dangers of fake news, we need to distinguish between fake news and “news satire.” News satire is meant to be entertaining and funny. Take for example The Onion — the Madison-based publication that runs a periodic issue of spoof stories. It’s a bit like an April Fool’s joke, but constant.

Conversely, the purpose of fake news is to mislead, deceive, and do harm (Wikipedia.) Sharyl Attkisson, in her Ted Talk video on YouTube states that “powerful interests might be trying to manipulate your opinion.” Our opinions can influence how we vote, how we spend our money, where we live, how we interact with others and much more.

Reading the fake news is bad enough, but spreading it can spread the intended harm. So what to do? Here is what you can do:

Learn to recognize

‘fake news’

IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations provides these tips to spot fake news (

Consider the source. Find out about the website and its mission/purpose.

Read beyond. Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. Read the whole story.

Check the author. Do a quick search on the author to see if they are real and credible.

Check the supporting sources. If a story has links to supporting statistics or facts, make sure those are real. (Note: Clicking the links themselves may not show you the actual source, and it may actually be dangerous, so search independently.)

Check the date. Make sure the news story is current.

Make sure it’s not a joke or satire

Check your biases. Make sure that your beliefs aren’t leading you to want it to be true.

Ask the experts. Ask a librarian or consult a fact-checking site.

Reputable fact-checking sites include Snopes, Politifact and You can also use Google to search the headline plus the terms “scam” of “fake news” to see if it has been de-bunked elsewhere.

You can also educate yourself on fake news by watching any of the helpful YouTube Ted Talks by folks like Attkisson and journalist Ali Velshi. Search in YouTube for “fake news Ted Talk.”

What else you can do:

Refuse to spread fake news. Statistics show that fake news is more likely to be re-posted, re-tweeted, etc., because the titles are so much more enticing (salacious, alarmist, and sensationalist) Don’t re-post anything you haven’t fact-checked first.

Call out fake news when you see it. Present fact-based sources to combat it. Do so diplomatically with kindness, but don’t be complicit in spreading harm through misinformation. You risk being unfriended on social media like Facebook, but it may be worth it to help prevent other people from falling victim to fear-mongering or misrepresentation. Remember that truth is a powerful weapon; use it for good.



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