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Fake News: How to Know if It's Fake

What to Look For

In evaluating content on the web, you will look for many of the same characteristics that you look for in other resources, and evaluate based on some additional criteria, such as the host of the website and functionality of the website.

Authority / Credentials - Who authored the content on the web page? What are their credentials? Are they an expert in the field? Depending upon how you are using this information, you want to be sure that the author is a credible and reliable source of information in the field. One way to determine this is to look at what kinds of websites link to the website you are evaluating. The more credible and authoritative those websites are, the more credible and authoritative the one you are evaluating is likely to be. You can find out what links to a particular website at

Type of Source / Audience - Academic, Industry /Trade / Professional Publications, Substantive News, Popular, Sensational. See Types of Information: How to Determine Audience

Relevancy Is the information related to the topic you are researching? You may find something to be interesting, but make sure it has a place in your main argument.

Point of View / Objectivity / Bias - Does the information reflect an author's bias? If the author has a position, is it well reasoned and argued and supported by empirical evidence? If you are going to use a source that is biased, you want to make sure that the position reflected is supported by ample evidence. You also want to acknowledge any bias in your paper or article.

CurrencyIs the information up-to-date? Remember that just because the webpage has been updated recently, that doesn't mean that all of the information on the webpage has necessarily been updated. Cross check the information with other sources. 

AccuracyCurrent information is more likely to be accurate, but not always. Even if it is current, be sure to cross check the information with other sources.

Content Coverage/Scope - What topics are covered in the source? Does the website cover many sides of the topic?  Is the scope broad or narrow? Is there evidence to back up the arguments? Are references to additional sources provided? Be sure the source has the kind of coverage of the topic that you want before you decide to use it.

Host Is the host a reputable organization or individual? (The government - with a domain of .gov - would be an example.) Remember, the author is not always the host of the website. The author could have some sort of sponsor, and that could mean that there were terms that he/she had to agree to in order to publish on that site. When evaluating for authority, pay attention to the website host or sponsor in addition to the actual author. For example, it is usually best to stay away from information hosted on corporate websites, because for-profit companies can have a hidden agenda that serves their bottom line of profit. On the other hand, the information on a corporate website might meet all of the other criteria here. If the corporation's mission is to spread accurate and objective information, and you can corroborate the information with other sources, it may be acceptable to use. Use your best judgment. 

Functionality - Is the website easy to navigate and use? You may find good information on a website, but if it's very messy and difficult to find that information, it would make it difficult for your readers to later trace those citations and figure out the exact source and location of the information that you used.

AdsIf the website has a lot of ads (especially if they are particularly prominent or distracting), you may not want to use it as a source. The information may be accurate and authoritative, but the appearance may undermine its credibility. What does it say about a source of information if it contains advertisements for commercial products and services? Many people might think the information is biased, even if it is not.

Check Your Facts!

How to Recognize A Fake News Story

In a Huffington Post story entitled How to Recognize a Fake News Story dated Nov. 22, 2016, the author (Nick Robins-Early) lists nine things to look for:

How to Recognize a Fake News Story

What Kinds of Fake News Exist?

There are four broad categories of fake news..

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.

Adapted from:

5 Ways to Spot and Stop Fake News. Don’t get taken in. Take a moment to think before you click - and share. Consider the source: Strange domain names or web sites that end in "lo" (like "Newslo") are signs you should be wary. Check the URL: Fake news sites will often use a web address designed to make it look like real site, ending in "" Look for visual clues: Fake news websites may use sloppy or unprofessional design and overuse ALL CAPS. Get a second opinion: If a story makes you very angry, dig deeper; consult other news sources or use debunking sites.   Put your browser to work: Consider installing one of the browser plugins listed on this page to flag fake news in real time. When in doubt… ask a librarian! Source: An informal list compiled by Dr. Melissa Zimdars, Assistant Professor at Merrimack College

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