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Evaluating News: "Fake News" and Beyond

A guide to evaluating news for credibility

Evaluate the Website

  1. Screenshot of a URL for a site pretending to be BBC NewsLook at the website name, site domain and URLs. Some things to look for:
    1. URLs that attempt to look like the URLs of legitimate news outlets. These sites often end in .com.co and are trying to convince you that you're looking at news from a source you're familiar with. For example, see abcnews.com.co
    2. Websites with names ending in "lo" (for example, Newslo) - These sites mix pieces of factual information with false or misleading information, sometimes, but not always for parody purposes. 
    3. If the URL/domain name looks odd to you, make a note of that. It could indicate that the site isn't credible
       
  2. Check the "About Us" and "Contact Us" links on websites. Some things to look for:
    1. No "About Us" links may be a sign that the site isn't credible.
    2. You can look up people and links listed in "About Us" section of a site to get some background information and see what people might be saying about the site.
    3. Be careful & take your time. Sometimes a site's "About Us" section isn't a straightforward indicator of the site's purpose. For example, here's the "About Us" page for The Onionhttp://www.theonion.com/about/
  3. Look at the news source's layout and formatting. Some things to look for: 
    1. How is the web design? Bad design and layout can be a warning sign.
    2. Is the site mostly advertisments? Many legitimate news sites do feature the occasional ad, but if you notice several on the same page, the site's primary purpose may not be to inform.
    3. Look out for the use of ALL CAPS on the site. This is another indicator that you may want to verify information you find here before trusting it.
       
  4. Do some quick research on the website or news source. Some things to look for:
    1. Is there a Wikipedia page about the site/news source?
    2. Do you see mentions of fact checking websites (snopes, politifact, etc.) factchecking the site.news source?

Go Deeper

"The problem with internet quotes is that you cant always depend on their accuracy" -Abraham Lincoln, 1864Reading beyond the headline and first paragraph can be very important. Some things to look for:

  1. Check out the author's name. Click on the name (if it's clickable on the site) or search for it. Have they written anything else? Do they seem like a reliable source?
     
  2. How many sources are there for the story? Can you verify the information in the story? Keep in mind that, "In most mainstream media stories, people are quoted by name, title and where they work (although sometimes they are quoted anonymously), and there are links to reports or court documents" (Alicia Shepard, "A Savvy News Consumer’s Guide: How Not To Get Duped").
     
  3. Search the names, places, and organizations mentioned in the story. Do they really exist? Are they being accurately represented?
     
  4. If you see a quote that strikes you as strange, look it up in your favorite search engine. Tip** You can put quote marks around the quote you're looking up to bring the most relevant results to the top of your search.
     
  5. Are opposing points of view represented? 

 

 

Check the Date

Dates are important for news. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Is the date of the story unlisted? Look up the headline and see if you can find when the story originally ran. Sometimes old news stories are "recycled" on social media to look like current news.
     
  2. When major events take place, the initial stories may leave out information that is unearthed later. It's good (even if you're not worried about fake news) to check the dates to see if the story you're looking at presents the most current and complete information available.

Consider Your own Biases

This is perhaps the hardest part of being a smart consumer of news. We all like to read things that validate our own beliefs. However, our biases can keep us from taking a hard look at fake news when it confirms what we already think. Here are some strategies to try moving beyond our biases:

  1. Try to be aware of your own biases. We talk about bias as if it's a dirty word, but we all have biases, and often they are psychologically useful frames of reference for making our way through the world. We just don't want fake news sights to use our biases against us.
    1. You can try some of the Project Implicit Social Attitudes or Mental Health tests to get a better look at some of your own biases.
       
  2. When faced with a news story or argument that you automatically disagree with, try checking to see if it is fake news or otherwise unreliable. If it's not, try to give that story or argument the most benefit of the doubt that you can.
    1. What is the best point that it makes?
    2. Whose voices are being represented that you may not have heard before?
    3. Why might it be important?

​​You don't have to agree with everything that you read, but sometimes making the best case you can for a perspective or argument that conflicts with your own beliefs and perceptions will help you make your own arguments better.

Chainsawsuit comic on research and confirmation bias by Kris Straub

Chainsawsuit comic by Kris Straub, from Sept. 16, 2014

Read Widely

  1. Expose yourself to multiple news sources.
     
  2. Try to include a few sources from respected professional news organizations in your news diet.
     
  3. Read at least one news source from an editorial perspective that differs from your own views.
     
  4. Don't forget about international news and non-mainstream news.
    1. For International news, take a look at Lorena OÉnglish's Keeping up with International News LibGuide
    2. For news from ethnic, minority, and native presses, try the Ethnic NewsWatch database (you may need to log in with your WSU ID and password)
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