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Fake News & Disinformation

Obvious Example #1

In some (if not most) cases, all that's required to spot a fake news story is a little common sense. American News features an image of President Ronald Reagan, a revered Republican, in its title logo, suggesting its partisanship. However, this becomes irrelevant when one bothers to look past the headlines at the actual stories. The story featured below involves Muslims, but bears no other relation to its headline: it's about someone urinating on a prayer rug at the University of Michigan.

Obvious Example #2

This example, from Before It's News (and featured on at least one other similarly fake site) is also pretty straightforward. The amounts supposedly owed by the Obamas are absurd. Even if the presidential couple had indeed bought everything the article claims they did, the total would not come anywhere close to $11 billion, a figure equal to the GDP of a small country. And "eleventy" isn't a word.


It's also worth looking at the Before It's News site itself:

A few points:

  1. "Alternative," "Spirituality," and "Unexplained" are terms that one doesn't find among the tabs on any legitimate news site.
  2. No professional news organization lets just anyone "upload news."
  3. The presence of advertising, and the nature or quality of the products being advertised, is not a sound indicator of the site's reliability. Ads for Duracell batteries and Mapquest could quite conceivably show up in the margins of The Seattle Times' website, for example. Newspapers, in both their print and online versions, generally cannot survive without ad revenue.
  4. This site deals heavily in sensationalist headlines (the ones underlined are just some of the most outrageous).

Fake News Exercise

It's time to test your fake news detection skills. Consider the following story from Focus News:

Work in groups of 3-5. Using any methods you can think of, try to determine whether the story is (a) false, (b) true, or (c) a mix of truth and falsehood. Go back to the home page of this guide if you need some direction on what to look for.

What is your verdict on this story?
The story is entirely made up: 0 votes (0%)
The story is entirely true: 0 votes (0%)
The story has elements of truth to it, but some falsehoods or distortions as well: 2 votes (100%)
Total Votes: 2

Discuss which (if any) of the fake news hallmarks from the first page of this guide are evident in this story.