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Search Skills

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Fake news

"Fake news" is not a new phenomenon, it's been around since the nineteenth century. However, you will probably have heard lots about it in recent years. 

This guide will explain what fake news is and how you can spot it. 

What is fake news?

Fake, or fabricated, news is expressly disseminated for the sake of earning money from clicks and views, and it is also used to mislead and misinform. With astonishing speed, fake news goes viral without being vetted or confirmed. Even if such information is eventually retracted or disproved, the damage has already been done and the information remains digitally archived. 

Cooke, N.A. (2018) Fake news and alternative facts: information literacy in a post-truth era. Chicago: American Library Association. 

Fake news: understand the discussion

A work of fiction that is presented as a factual news story, often with the intent of deceiving the reader into believing it is factual and enticing them to share it.


DiLascio-Martinuk, T. M. (2018) ‘Fake News’, Salem Press Encyclopedia. Available at: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=127884568&site=eds-live (Accessed: 24 January 2020).

A way of reporting on a factual news story that is designed to sway a reader toward a specific conclusion. This differs from fake news because the underlying facts are true but may be presented selectively or misleadingly to encourage the reader to think a particular way.


DiLascio-Martinuk, T. M. (2018) ‘Fake News’, Salem Press Encyclopedia. Available at: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=127884568&site=eds-live (Accessed: 24 January 2020).

A term used to describe articles, either real or fake, that have attention-grabbing headlines and intentionally inflammatory content, designed to entice readers to click on the article and share the content.


DiLascio-Martinuk, T. M. (2018) ‘Fake News’, Salem Press Encyclopedia. Available at: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=127884568&site=eds-live (Accessed: 24 January 2020).

A tendency of people to seek out and trust sources that affirm a belief they already hold and to distrust sources that contradict their existing beliefs.


DiLascio-Martinuk, T. M. (2018) ‘Fake News’, Salem Press Encyclopedia. Available at: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=127884568&site=eds-live (Accessed: 24 January 2020).

Alternative facts is a controversial phrase coined by White House aide Kellyanne Conway during media coverage following the inauguration of US president Donald Trump in January 2017. Conway used the phrase to defend Trump's then press secretary Sean Spicer, who had been accused of misrepresenting the size of the audience that witnessed Trump's inauguration ceremony. Spicer notoriously claimed that Trump's inauguration drew the largest audience ever to witness a presidential inauguration, contradicting news reports that appeared to show a larger crowd at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. After the press accused Spicer of making deliberately false statements, Conway said Spicer was simply giving "alternative facts."


Greene, J. M. (2018) ‘Alternative facts (politics)’, Salem Press Encyclopedia. Available at: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=129815289&site=eds-live (Accessed: 24 January 2020).

A situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own.


'Echo chamber' (2020) Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/echo-chamber )Accessed 28 January 2020).

A situation in which someone only hears or sees news and information that supports what they already believe and like, especially a situation created on the internet as a result of algorithms (= sets of rules) that choose the results of someone's searches


'Filter bubble' (2020) Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/filter-bubble?q=%22filter+bubble%22 (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Spotting fake news

You could go to the Evaluating Information page of this guide for guidance on judging information using the CRAAP test, but Donald A. Barclay (2018) goes further. Take a look at the list of questions below, which could help you to spot fake news.

Nine Essential Questions Everyone Should Ask

  1. Who created the information?
  2. Who published the information?
  3. What comes after the headline?
  4. What sources are cited?
  5. How old is the information?
  6. What do others think about the information?
  7. Is the information a primary or secondary source?
  8. Is the information a joke?
  9. Is the information different from anything you have ever seen?

Barclay, D.A. (2018) Fake news, propaganda, and plain old lies: how to find trustworthy information in the digital age. Lanham MA: Rowman & Littlefield. 

Fact-checking

Another option is fact-checking. There are a number of different sites available that will help you to check the details of a story. Here are just a few: 

Snopes

"We are the internet’s go-to source for discerning what is true and what is total nonsense."

Full Fact

The UK's independent fact-checking charity. "Full Fact fights bad information. We're a team of independent fact checkers and campaigners who find, expose and counter the harm it does." 

Politifact

A fact-checking site focused on US politics. 

Factitious

This is a great game you can use to test out your fake news-spotting skills! Test yourself and try out the techniques from this guide to see if you can spot fake news. 

Fake news in the media

Fake news in the media

Take a look at the latest stories relating to fake news (via Google News). 

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