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Fake News & Misinformation


Comet restaurant: the subject of "Pizzagate"In the weeks leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, you’ll likely remember encountering stories about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton selling weapons to ISIS. Fake news stories like these are not new, but in the post-print social media age, the potential for misleading information to go viral is.

This topic guide will provide you with tools, strategies, and additional resources to help you cultivate informed skepticism about the information you encounter on the Internet, and shield yourself from the dangers of consuming and sharing dubious or flat out incorrect information.

Image source: DOCLVHUGO (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Varieties of Misinformation

The term "fake news" is applied to many different forms of false information. Here a few categories and examples of viral fake news:*

Fake News Websites

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.


Fake news headline reads, "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide"

Fake Social Media Accounts

Federal investigations since the 2016 presidential election have revealed the extent to which Russian trolls used fake Facebook accounts and other social media to sew discord. This practice is ongoing, but you can learn how to identify deceptive posts:

Example of a feminist post from a Russian Facebook using broken English next to a real one

Hoax Websites

Websites presenting deliberately fabricated falsehoods (usually on one specific topic or theme).


Dog Island homepage claiming dogs can be send to island to live free

Propaganda Websites

Many fake news sites fall under this category, but there are also politically motivated sites that present biased reference/biographical information.


Homepage of with links to fake biographical information

Born Digital Images

Digitally manipulated images often shared on social media, which are typically intended to prank a gullible audience.


Fake photo of the Statue of Liberty with waves crashing in a storm

Satirical Websites

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


Satirical headline reads, "Your Move, Netflix: Hulu Just Secured The Exclusive Rights to Stream Helen Mirren's Death"

*Adapted from the four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College

4 Moves and a Habit

Practicing these strategies and habit of mind will help you become a savvy fact-checker of online content.

Source with magnifying glass and check mark

1.  Check for previous work - Has someone else has already done the investigative work?

Single source disseminated through many other sources

2.  Go upstream - Go to the original story and evaluate it.

  • Don't waste time evaluating sources that have simply rewritten stories found on other news sites and blogs.
Multiple browser windows open at once

3.  Read laterally - What do other sources have to say?

  • Ask yourself, "Who is an authority on this information?" Seek out multiple voices and perspectives.
Smartphone with angry face

:)  Check your emotions - Pause before sharing!

  • Information that triggers an emotional response spreads the fastest through social media.
Caulfield, M. (2017). Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. Retrieved from

Fact Checking Websites

There are several sources you can consult to fact-check claims on dubious websites and social media:

Remember that you also have access to a wealth of reliable sources through the library. Statistics and results from scientific studies are sometimes spun when reported in popular sources, so cut out the middleman and find the original source through the library's many subscription resources and recommended data sources.


The recent rise of viral fake news is a complex phenomenon that is part of a larger media literacy and sociopolitical crisis. This glossary of key terms can help you navigate challenging conversations around the issue.

confirmation bias

The tendency to believe information is credible if it conforms to the reader’s/viewer’s existing belief system, or not credible if it does not conform

container collapse

Trouble discerning the original information container, format or information type–blog, book, pamphlet, government document, chapter, magazine, newspaper, journal, or section of the newspaper or magazine or journal–once publishing cues are removed and every source looks like a digital page or a printout.

content farm/mill

A company that employs a staff of freelance writers to create content designed to satisfy search engine retrieval algorithms with the goal of attracting views and advertising revenue.

echo chamber

“In news media an echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.” –Wikipedia

fact checking

The act of verifying assertions either prior to publication or after dissemination of the content

filter bubble

When search tools present with the stories we are likely to click on or share based on our past activity, potentially affirming our biases, we need may be experiencing what Eli Pariser calls a filter bubble.

herding phenomenon

As more journalists begin to cover a story, even more journalists are likely to join the herd, imitating the angle the story initially took rather than developing alternate or original approaches or angles.

native advertising

Paid, sponsored content designed to look like the legitimate content produced by the media outlet


A portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice introduced by Herbert Simon in 1956 to refer to the tendency of people, bounded by time limitations, to select good enough information over optimal information

triangulation or cross verification

Researchers establish validity by using several research methods and by analyzing and examining multiple perspectives and sources in the hope that diverse viewpoints will can shed greater light on a topic.


The rapid circulation of media from one user to another.  When we forward sensational stories, often from social media without checking their credibility in other sources, we increase their virality.


Suggested Resources

Select reports, blog posts, and popular articles containing additional information on fake news and Americans' media consumption: