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Combating Misinformation:  

Tips to help you determine what's fact, what's fiction

What is misinformation?  Why does it exist? Why does it persist?

Misinformation comes in a variety of forms—made-up stories and hoaxes designed to mislead or satirical sites intending to be funny. Images and videos, too, can be edited or manipulated to deceive: if you haven't viewed it already, check out this DeepFake video, which illustrates how convincing image manipulation can be. Misinformation is meant to deliberately misinform, in an attempt to sway pubic opinion or generate money for its creators. And, because it's designed to elicit an emotional response from readers, it spreads quickly.

A recent study conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology found readers believe a false news headline at least 20 percent of the time. Another MIT study showed that lies spread faster than truth: false stories are spread 10 times faster than real news and the problem of misinformation seriously threatens our society.

In the internet age, when anyone can post anything to social media and blogs, and opinion is confused with news, it's often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. To guard yourself from fake news, follow these tips from FactCheck.orgIndiana University-EastEugene Public Library, and Simon Fraser University.

Check the language: “On average, fake news articles use more…words related to sex, death, and anxiety" and often use overly emotional language, according to Researchers at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada). In contrast, “genuine news…contains a larger proportion of words related to work (business) and money (economy).” Fake news also uses more superlatives, like “most” and “worst," and subjective terms like “brilliant” and “terrible.” Algorithms are being developed to automatically identify fake news, but in the meantime, the language is a tell.

Consider the source: Credible websites include an "About Us" section. Before you buy into what has been published, find out about the site's operators, origins, and mission. Also: Be wary of news you land on by clicking through your social media feed. A recent report by the Jumpshot Tech Blog1 found that Facebook referrals accounted for 50 percent of the total traffic to fake news sites and just 20 percent total traffic to reputable websites. So if you're in the habit of getting your news through social media, as many are, check the source of the news before believing it or spreading it.

Check the author: Who wrote the article? Does s/he have the credentials or expertise to write on the topic? Is it an opinion/editorial piece? Reports from a verified, reputable news service such as AP, Reuters, or UPI are reliable since these news organizations have long histories of conforming to the highest standards of journalism, including rigorous fact-checking, verifiable sources, and a policy of publishing corrections when errors occur.

Check the date: If the date on the story isn't recent, be doubtful. Stories from unreliable sources often get re-circulated via social media, with users re-posting old stories that have already been debunked.

Check your biases: While a news story may be factual it might also contain a bias and leave out pertinent information that would give the article balance. Take a look at these resources to check the bias of the news you read, watch, or hear:

AllSides: Provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant.

Media/Bias Fact Check: Check the bias of you favorite news source; review lists of fake news and satire sites.

Read beyond: Be wary of outrageous headlines; they could be "click bait"—written with the deliberate intent to attract attention (for monetary gain, since many websites are ad-supported) and sometimes deceive. 

Supporting sources: If the article includes references to other sources, click on them or search for them to determine if they are legitimately cited.

Is it a joke? In an age of improbable headlines, satire "news" stories can seem credible on first glance. Check the source.

Ask the experts: When in doubt, research the topic with a library resource. You'll find credible articles from magazines, newspapers, and other publications. If you need additional assistance, ask a librarian. Or check one of these websites: