Fake news: what is it, how can you spot it and what can you do about it?

What is fake news?


Fake news is misinformation. Often it is intended to mislead and designed to spread.

Fake news may not be 100% fake; it may be a mixture of real and fake, or it may be strongly biased, providing a slanted or incomplete perspective on a topic.

How does fake news spread?

“Misinformation is perpetuated because people aren’t taking the time to evaluate sources before they accept it as truth and/or pass it on to others.”

Professor Nicole A. Cooke,
University of Illinois School of Information Sciences

  • “Clickbait” headlines are designed to provoke a strong response.
  • People share, “like,” and forward fake news through social media.
  • People pay more attention to stories that they agree with, and disregard stories that have a different point of view.
  • Social media becomes an “echo chamber” of agreement, so people don’t see opposing viewpoints.
  • Search engines personalize results based on past searches and clicks.

What is a filter bubble?

soap-bubble-824576_1920Not all search results are the same.

When you search online, the results are personalized, based on what the search engine knows about you. You are less likely to encounter points of view you disagree with, and risk becoming isolated in your own cultural “bubble.”

“The contents of a page of search results can influence people’s views and opinions.”

Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian

Escaping the filter bubble

You can’t escape the filter bubble entirely, but you can:

  • Clear your search history
  • Use different search engines
  • Search anonymously (private or incognito mode)
  • Opt out of being tracked when possible

“We clearly prefer news stories that are likely to reinforce our existing views rather than challenge them.”

Kartik Hosanagar, Wired

What can I do?

Take responsibility

Inform yourself

Think critically

  • Don’t share until you’ve read it
  • Don’t believe the headline without reading the article
  • Consider the source – who wrote the article, who published it?
    • Is it an ad?
    • Is it on a spoof news site?!
    • Are there references (and do the links to them actually go there)?
      • Are there links to references?
      • Are the references fae news?!
  • Check the date
    • Is it an old article being “recycled”?
    • Has new information emerged recently?
  • Triangulate – i.e. check multiple sources
    • Do they agree?
    • Do they cite evidence or only offer opinion?
  • Use a fact checker, e.g.
  • Think critically!magnifying-glass-1607160_1920

“At the heart of [fake] news is the inability to think critically about the information that surrounds us and to perform the necessary due diligence and research to verify and validate….
Today we have access to all the world’s information, yet we take no advantage of that information to be more informed citizens of the world.”

Kalev Leetaru, Forbes

This post was adapted from the “What is fake news?” informational pamphlet created by Jenny Arch.


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