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Fake News, Bias, and Perspective: How to Sort Fact From Fiction, Gold Workshop: What is fake news?

The Problem

For further information on becoming a more critical consumer of news, visit Decoding Fake News.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Medioimages/Photodisc.

What's wrong with fake news?

Why should you care about whether or not your news is real or fake?

  1. You deserve the truth.  You are smart enough to make up your own mind - as long as you have the real facts in front of you.  You have every right to be insulted when you read fake news, because you are in essence being treated like an idiot.
  2. Fake news destroys your credibility.  If your arguments are built on bad information, it will be much more difficult for people to believe you in the future.
  3. Fake news can hurt you, and a lot of other people.  Purveyors of fake and misleading medical advice like and help perpetuate myths like HIV and AIDS aren't related, or that vaccines cause autism.  These sites are heavily visited and their lies are dangerous.
  4. Real news can benefit you.  If you want to buy stock in a company, you want to read accurate articles about that company so you can invest wisely.  If you are planning on voting in an election, you want to read as much good information on a candidate so you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs.  Fake news will not help you make money or make the world a better place, but real news can.

Borrowed with permission from Indiana University East.

Definitions Discussion


Fake news -- Some people define "fake news" as news that is created to make money. Other people broaden the definition to include deliberate spread of misinformation to persuade someone.  "Language, statistical figures, graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence." (Carl Bergstrom)

Post-truth -- "Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Oxford Dictionaries

Bias -- prejudice, unfounded skewing of information

Perspective -- Point of view, standpoint, how someone interprets the facts

Spin -- selective telling of facts, using tone to project bias, using language to elicit a response

Truth -- "collections of data"

Container -- this refers to the publication title, web site name, news media outlet name, name of the organization sponsoring an article or piece of information.

Unethical journalistic practices -- inventing sources, for instance

Yellow Journalism -- term used to describe sensational headlines intended to sell newspapers

Terminology and Media Manipulation

  1. Select a term from the list below.
  2. Open this PADLET.
  3. Write a short explanation or example of how this term relates to the "fake news" phenomenon.

Apophenia: The tendency to perceive meaningful connections in unrelated things; seeing patterns where none exist.

Astroturfing: The practice of concealing the financial stakeholders promoting a message or an organization so that it seems to come from and be supported by grassroots entities.

Belief perseverance: The tendency to continue believing something even after learning that the foundation of the belief is false.

Confirmation bias: The tendency to process new information as confirmation of the beliefs one already holds.

Cognitive bias: A mental-processing error (e.g., in reasoning, interpreting or remembering) that often results from clinging to preferences and beliefs in spite of contrary evidence.

Computational propaganda: The manipulation of information and communication technologies to influence  attitudes, thinking processes and behavior.

Counterknowledge: Inaccurate information that is presented as fact and is believed by a critical mass of people.

Disinformation: False information that is disseminated to the media or other entities with the purpose of deceiving.

Dunning-Kruger effect: A cognitive bias that leads people of limited skills or knowledge to mistakenly believe their abilities are greater than they actually are.

Filter bubble: The limited perspective that can result from personalized search algorithms.

Group polarization: A group’s tendency to make more extreme decisions than its individual members would typically be inclined to make.

Heuristic: A cognitive shortcut, rule or method that helps people solve problems in less time than it would take to think the problem all the way through.

Homophily: The tendency to form connections with people who are similar to oneself.

Information diet: The kinds and quantity of information that a person consumes on a regular basis.

Illusion of comprehension: A cognitive bias that occurs when people mistake familiarity or awareness for understanding. Also called the “familiarity effect.”

Motivated reasoning: The tendency to process new information in such a way that it will fit with previously held beliefs.

Poe’s law: Taken from a comment made by an online forum participant, Nathan Poe, the idea that it is nearly impossible to distinguish between an extremist view and a parody of it without clear evidence of the author’s purpose.

Sock puppet: An online user posing as another person—often a real person—usually  to express their own views anonymously.

An Academic Perspective

There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

CATEGORY 1: 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.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

Borrowed with permission from Indiana University East.

Confirmation Bias