What is fake news and how can we spot it?

Let’s start with a definition of fake news:

Any manipulative account of a supposedly newsworthy event or state of affairs which purports to be factually accurate but which is deceptive, misleading, fraudulent, demonstrably false, and/or unverifiable — especially sensational accounts in social media that are designed to ‘go viral’.

‘Fake news’ (2020) in Chandler, D and Munday R (eds.) A Dictionary of Media and Communication. 3rd edn. Oxford: OUP.

It’s a phrase that has passed into everyday conversation, but it can be a slippery term. It can be tempting to dismiss opinions that you disagree with as “fake news”, rather than a view that has as much validity as your own.

But, if something “purports to be fully accurate”, how can we tell whether or not to believe it?

Text in image reads:

How to spot fake news

1. Consider the source. Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.

2. Read beyond. Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?

3. Check the author. Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?

4. Supporting sources? Click on those links. Determine if the information given actually supports the story

5. Check the date. Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.

6. Is is it a joke? If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.

This graphic was produced by IFLA and suggests some good starting points if you’re not sure of the reliability of something you’ve read.

Beyond fake news

Remembering to check your biases, reading beyond and checking the date are useful things to do with anything you read, not just news articles or posts.

Yes, even academic sources!

Oxford Brookes Library has team of Academic Liaison Librarians, who have strong links with academic departments and courses. An important part of their role is making sure students know what questions to ask about what they read, and where they can find the answers.

Although the peer review system makes much academic publishing rigourous, sources can still become outdated, and nothing is ever free of bias.

How can we improve our skills?

If you are an Oxford Brookes student, then we recommend you complete the Digital Capabilities course on Moodle. This course is optional for most students, and you can work throught it at your own pace.

One section of the course is called ‘Be Selective’. The activities in this section are designed to help you to avoid the pitfalls of sharing content online and protect yourself from being misinformed.

The Digital Capabilities team have pulled together a list of useful resources if you would like to read more about spotting fake news and being selective.

We’re writing a series of blog posts encouraging you to ask questions about what you read. If you’ve found this one useful, do have a look at the others in the series.

— Charlie Brampton, Academic Liaison Librarian

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