• Evaluating Sources: Fake News

    Steer clear of bad information with the 5Ws!

    Fake News and Bias

    Fake news is not a new topic, but it was brought back into the lime light during the 2016 presidential election. Fake news is spreading information that is not entirely true but seems like it is in order to influence public opinion.

    Fake news has these characteristics...

    • Easy to make
    • Easy to share
    • Spreads like wildfire
    • Factually inaccurate
    • Preys on biases

    ... and can be classified in one of two categories:

    • Misinformation - unintentional distribution (accidental spread) of inaccurate information
    • Disinformation - intentional distribution (deliberate spread) of inaccurate information

    BUT just because something is not fake does not mean it is rude or inconvenient.

    What isn't fake news?

    • Something that challenges your personal beliefs and biases
    • Something rejected by someone or people in power
    • Something you simply do not like
    • Honest reporting mistakes
    • Satirical news (e.g. The Onion, even Saturday Night Live) - News that pokes fun at current issues or events

    Keep your biases in check!

    Whether or not you realize it, you may be judging a book by its cover before understanding the fine details. These are two types of biases you may experience:

    1. Implicit - predetermined attitudes and stereotypes
    2. Confirmation - stuff that validates what you already believe


    Propaganda is information published to support a political ideology that is typically biased and does not show both sides of an issue. Historically, propaganda has associated with wartime movements or politically turbulent periods. While propaganda may look different today, it's important to understand where your information is coming from. If a post, article, meme, etc. is trying to convince you of a particular ideology through an emotional response or without accurate statistics, it is likely propaganda. Propaganda can also tend to vilify particular groups by using stereotypes and non accurate information. While propaganda is not always used for negative purposes, such as healthy eating or anti-drug campaigns, it's a safer bet to stick to sources you can fact-check and verify rather than information that blindly supports a particular cause. 

    Propaganda poster from World War II showing a man carry a soldier's uniform and weapons. 

    ChevronTexaco (Firm). So long gang -- don't forget to write!. 1939/1945. Artstor, library.artstor.org/asset/AMINNESOTAIG_10311394541


    Advertising has been around as long as modern media itself and is always finding better ways to sell products and services to buyers. Unless you are purposefully discussing advertising for an assignment, media put out as promotion for companies is unlikely to be a good source. Much like propaganda, it is normally biased and may only show facts and statistics that support their particular brand or image. In addition, companies may also rely on public relations in order to help further a brand's goals. While PR does not directly market a product or service to individuals, it helps improve brand imaging through various means like companies supporting charitable organizations, sweepstakes, promotions, etc. As media has advanced, many of us believe we are better at dodging ads. We ignore TV ads, scroll past targeted posts, and use our best judgement when purchasing products. However, companies have gotten sneakier about promotion. They may send free products to internet stars, used product placement, or create their own websites to publish content that may have otherwise seemed to be 3rd party. If an article has a brand deal or other sponsor, it is likely not going to present facts accurately. 

    Double check unverified web sources and make sure that the sources of your information are unbiased. If a piece of media seems heavily focused on a particular product or brand without using credible statistics to back it up, you may want to avoid using it for academic purposes. 


    "You won't believe what she did! Try this one quick trick!"

    Clickbait is everywhere on the internet. The information within the sites and articles can range from correct to blatantly false, and while some news sites that use clickbait are not perpetuators of fake news, they are still using misleading techniques. 

    An article doesn't have to be fake to be a non-credible source of information. While some clickbait sites can be enjoyable to browse, using them as academic sources can damage your credibility. The information you cite may be 100% accurate, however using articles with names like "Top 10 Facts About Wall Street You Didn't Know" makes any research you've done feel cheap. If there's a story you find on one of these sites that does interest you, try finding articles about the same topic from more reputable news sources. That way you can use the same news story, just from a more trusted provider.