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"Fake News," Lies and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction

Overarching Principles

Combating "fake news" is harder than you might think.  The proliferation and simplification of web tools have made creating online "news" content easier than ever before.  In addition, some might say that today's current cultural and political climate may make it difficult for readers to recognize their emotional responses to what they see.  Here are some overarching principles that will empower you to feel more confident in what you are seeing online.

  1. Read widely:  To get a complete understanding of an issue, it is important to read information from many points of view, including news from sources in which you consistently disagree.  Following today's news and issues over an extended period of time can give you a long-term perspective on what's happening. You can use the strategies described elsewhere on this page to read with a critical eye, but it is important to read from a wide variety of sources in order to reveal alternative perspectives on the news that you may not have considered.  
  2. Become more comfortable with ambiguity: You may read news that challenges your understanding of an issue or disputes your previous idea of how to approach a problem.  That's okay!!!  Sometimes ambiguity fosters a feeling of vulnerability when really it means that we are about to learn something new. A quick Google search may not give you a definitive answer to today's complicated questions.  It is probably unrealistic to come to the conclusion that there is one definitive answer to every question.  Use your best judgment and back up your ideas with ethical evidence.
  3. If you haven't read a news article with a critical eye, DON'T SHARE IT.  Only you can stop the spread of fake news and misleading information.  Read the news closely and actively question what you see.  If you are unsure of the validity of what you are reading, don't share it with others.

Employ the other strategies on this page while considering these overarching principles.

Watchdog and fact-checking sites

General Questions

Consider the following strategies to analyze the evidence presented in a news article.

  1. How is the writer presenting the evidence?  Does the writer use language designed to make you feel a certain way?  Check your emotions as you read.  Are you elated?  Smug?  Happy?  Sad?  Good news reporting is designed to inform you about something.  It is not designed to entertain, inflame, or pass judgment.
  2. Does the writer provide context for statistics?  Do you know who collected the statistics?  When?  How was the statistic gathered?  Ethical journalists provide a level of transparency about where they have gotten their evidence in order to give you confidence in their conclusions.
  3. What has the writer not included in the article?  Until you follow the overarching principle of reading widely, it can be difficult to recognize what is missing in a news article.  As you learn to recognize unreliable news, start by asking yourself what someone who sees things in a different way might think about what is written.  What point of view is not being honestly represented?  

‚ÄčIf the writers on a website consistently do not offer satisfactory answers to the above questions, you may want to question the accuracy and reliability of the news that website is presenting.