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Fake News: Teaching in the "Post-Truth" Era

What is "fake news?"

Fake news sources deliberately publish hoaxes, disinformation, and propaganda designed to deceive readers for the purpose of political and/or financial gain. Fake news sources often follow design conventions of reputable news media sites to make the story seem more credible, making them more likely to be shared on social media. 

Source: Hunt, Elle. "What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it." The Guardian, 17 December 2016.


How You Know it's Fake

The facts of the story can't be verified

  • The alleged sources cited by the article, if any exist, may come from information reported by the same website or person. Many fake news stories contain embedded links to give the appearance of information sources. However, these links often take you to another fake news story, or a broad part of a legitimate website rather than the specific page with an attributed source. 

The story is not published in other credible news sources

  • In the 24 hour news cycle it's extremely rare to see a significant news story published in a single source. If conducting a Google search for the main ideas of the story does not produce results from other reputable news sources, then it is likely to be fake. 

The author does not have the credentials or the authority to write the story

  • Authors in fake news articles don't have any educational background in what they are reporting, and they are not journalists. As recent investigative journalism proved, many authors are paid trolls

The story appeals to your emotions

  • Fake news stories play heavily on readers' emotions with the goal of inspiring anger, fear, or happiness. By appealing to emotions rather than logic they distract from the facts of the story, and make readers more inclined to pass along the story without investigating its authenticity. 

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Types of Fake News

There are four broad categories of fake news, according to Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of Communication and Media.

CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

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