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The world of fake news is a pretty grim one to live in. In this alternate universe, presidential candidates have opponents murdered, pizza parlors engage in human trafficking, and Spaniards are sinking our battleships!
Luckily, this isn't the world we live in. However, we are living in a world that some, like the Oxford Dictionary, have deemed "post-truth."
Many believe that this is a modern problem that comes out of our social media habits, but the truth is that fake news has always been a concern. It's a natural inclination for us to want to believe information that confirms our beliefs, and that inclination has been taken advantage of by opportunists for as long as we've consumed news.
In order to be competent information consumers, we need to learn how to properly evaluate information, and engage with our sources. This is a skill that will be useful not just in an academic career, but throughout life.
Comic by Signe Wilkinson / Philly.com (WPWG 2016)
Beware the Infographic!
If you frequently use social media, there is a good chance you've seen something like this chart that claims to distinguish quality news sources from fake ones. This particular infographic was created by Vanessa Ortero, and first appeared on Instagram in December 2016. The graphic attempts to differentiate between quality news sources, and those that are generally less trustworthy.
While memes like these can be great conversation starters, they do not help to stop the spread of fake news.
The reason is something called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is 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. So, frequent consumers of sources that this graphic claims are untrustworthy will often dismiss it entirely, and consumers of those sources it praises will often ignore the unscientific nature of the work.
It is important to remember that broad characterizations and hard and fast rules won't solve the fake news problem.
So what should we do?
Instead of going with a "gut feeling," or your personal view of the validity of a source, try engaging with the source critically. When looking at an information source, try asking yourself the Five W's.
Olin, J. (2016, December 6). Letters to a Young Librarian: Information Literacy as Liberation.
What other steps can we take?
When examining a source online, there are a few other steps you should take. It may seem complicated, but after doing them for a while, they start to become second nature:
Ridout, B. (n.d.). Fake News: How to Fact Check.
All the news that's fit to digitally access!
One of the biggest hurdles in finding quality news sources is that often, the tools we use the most do not do enough to discern between reliable and unreliable sources of information. While some popular sites are working to combat this problem, headlines have also been filled with major failures on the part of some of the most popular websites to contain the spread of misinformation.
If you're having trouble determining the validity of a source, or need help researching quality information, remember that you can always Ask a Librarian. The librarians are Forsyth Library are Information Experts, and are available by chat, phone, email or text to help you out with any questions you may have.