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Decode Fake News: Decoding Fake News

This Library Guide provides resources to help students to identify "fake" news, bias, and propaganda, as well as good journalism, with a goal of encouraging them to become engaged consumers of information.

News Media

Multiple news outlet logos

Analyzing the content of every article regardless of its source is essential to becoming an informed citizen. Even biased sources can include fair, objective news items, and news from them should not be ignored just because of the source. So don't rely on one news source for all your information! Read widely and fact-check as much as possible.


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

Activity: Viral Rumors Quiz

Activity: Quick and simple debunking exercise

Compare these two links.  Which one do you think is true?  Why or why not?
1 - Eat This Not That: Shocking Facts About Farmed Salmon
2 - Washington State Department of Health: Farmed vs. Wild Salmon


Borrowed with permission from Indiana University East.

Activity: Images: Real or Fake? Quiz

How to Spot Fake News video

What kinds of fake news exist?

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.

Activity: What do you consider "fake" news?

Divide the class into groups of three. Each group should discuss the following types of writing, and decide if you would call them "fake news." If they are not fake news, how would you describe them?

  • Completely made-up news someone created to make money.
  • Completely made-up news someone created to persuade the reader of something the writer knows to be untrue.
  • Completely made-up news someone created to persuade the reader of something the writer believes is true.
  • Satire in the guise of news intended to entertain but often intended to persuade as well.
  • News that is partially true and contains some facts but also contains a lot of falsehoods, created to persuade the reader of something the creator knows is untrue.
  • News that is partially true and contains some facts but also contains a lot of falsehoods, created by someone who truly believes what they wrote.
  • News that is mostly true and contains some facts but also contains some falsehoods, created to persuade the reader of something the writer knows to be untrue.
  • News that is mostly true and contains some facts but also contains some falsehoods, created because the writer actually believes them to be true.
  • News that is completely true and factual but uses language intended to persuade.
  • News that is true and contains facts in plain language.

Activity: Source Analysis

Look closely at these articles. Look for the author's name, the sponsor (organization, publication, business, etc). As you read the article, determine what perspective the author is coming from; look for evidence given to back up claims made in the piece; watch for inflammatory language or the use of misleading photos or images. Research the author and the sponsor to determine their reputation. Finally, research the topic elsewhere to see if the information in the article can be corroborated in multiple sources.

Article 1 "Mitch McConnell: Proud Moment When I Told Obama 'You Will Not Fill This Supreme Court Vacancy'"

Article 2 "Oops, Donald Trump Accidentally Pays Tribute to 7-Eleven Instead of 9/11"

Article 3 "Ron Wyden Wants to Remind You -- The FBI Knows Things About Trump and Russia That They're Not Sharing"

Article 4 "Donald Trump White House Dress Code Policy: 'Female Staffers Must 'Dress Like Women,'' President Says" 

Article 5 "Trump is Reportedly Obsessed With How People Who Work for Him Dress"

Article 6 "Trump Sacks Defiant Acting Attorney General Sally Yates," BBC News

Article 7 "Weary Professors Give Up; Concede that Africa is a Country"

Article 8 "New York's Fast Food Flop"

Article 9 "Could Reince Be On His Way Out As Chief of Staff?"

Article 10 "Stores Report “Run on Pressure Cookers” after NYC Bombing"

Article 11 "Japan’s Abe Says U.S., Japan Leaders Working On New Economic Dialogue"

Article 12  "‘Disheartening’? Some Liberals Warm up to Trump Supreme Court Pick."

Article 13 "Trump Fights Back, Preps for New Travel Ban: 'We'll Win That Battle'"

Article 14 "Is Sean Spicer in Hot Water or Really Hot Water?"

Article 15 "Border Wall Would Cost $21.6B, Nearly Double Trump's Estimate"

Article 15 "Marco Rubio Accepts $100,000 From Betsy DeVos' Family Just Before Confirming Her"

Why Teach About Fake News?


Satirical Sites deliberately distort reality for a variety of reasons, such as making a political point or entertaining the reader. It is important to remember these sources because any news story from them can and should be disregarded as a direct source of information.

There is a danger when satire is just plausible enough that people believe it, because once a reader is embarrassed and ridiculed for believing something they learned through a satiric site, they begin to distrust all news. While skepticism itself isn't bad, many people then pick one news outlet and believe everything promoted by that source instead of applying critical thinking skills consistently to everything they read or hear. Satire should be funny, call attention to an issue by distorting reality, and be clearly marked as satire. Anything else is dangerous to the common good.


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.