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Fall 2022 Library Service Updates

Internet Search: Fake or False Information

Beware of Fake or False Information

With the introduction of the World Wide Web, teachers and information professionals have long been telling students to carefully evaluate information that they intend to use in their research.  Fake news is a popular label amid the increase of inaccurate information and concern about its impact on public opinion.  Whether such news is intentionally misleading or due to inadequate fact checking, carefully examine all sources of information you read and intend to share.

There are many websites and news sources that engage in activities that can lead to the spread of false or fake information to readers:

1.  Sensationalized article titles that are misleading - click-bait.  The authors and publishers intentionally use headlines that "bait" readers into clicking their link, only to find that the article was all or partly false, satirical, exaggerated, taken out of context, or unsubstantiated.   

2.  Reporting unreliable, unsubstantiated or potentially misleading information deliberately to stir up controversy or conspiracy.  Often in these articles the sources are not cited, the text is in all caps, improper images and ads are displayed and hateful name calling may be used. 

3.  Deliberate fake or satirical news intended to mislead or entertain.  Some sites will take real news captions and attach false stories.  Some sites are designed for satire and entertainment and can be useful to educate yourself about media literacy and reading with critical thinking.  

4.  Even some reputable sources headline with titles meant to generate use or make mistakes in their reporting.  Sometimes, wrong information simply gets through to the public, even when the reporters are checking sources and editors are proofing content. Statistical information published in an article, even by a reputable source, may be sensationalized or misrepresented by other sources or the publisher may give a catchy title that doesn't tell the whole story. This is not deliberate fake news or intentional deception, but due to human error or the desire to attract readers.

Because of these possible conditions you should use caution when citing or sharing articles without evaluation.  If a headline or story seems outrageous, take a closer look.  Be very skeptical of article titles that start with a number and some sensational wording or revealing of a secret (ex: "10 Actors You Didn't Know were Dead" or "12 Ways to Ruin Your Children").

Remember that misinformation or "fake news" is not specific to a certain political side.  Do not assume that just because you agree with an article and its ideology, that fact checking is unnecessary.  And don't assume that because you disagree with an author or article, that within it exists inaccurate information (this is known as confirmation bias).

Doing further research on your own through mainstream news sources, the library databases, or fact checkers like TruthorFiction.com, FactCheck.org and Snopes.com can be helpful to help you recognize false, incomplete or misleading news stories.

See OCC's Fake News Guide for more tips.

This guide was adapted from the McLennan Community College Searching the Internet guide with permission.

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