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Fake News

Fake news

Cartoon newspaper vendor selling fake news

Image by Stuart Rankin, used under the creative commons license.

As we receive information through a multitude of sources on a daily basis, we constantly use our facilities to sort factual information from questionable or fictitious information.  This skill becomes particularly important when an author or broadcaster intentionally tries to obscure the line between fact and fiction, and present questionable information as being factual.

In order to understand fake news, one must first understand the concepts that underlie it -- for example, understanding what a "fact" is.  These concepts are explained further through the tabs on the left.

Some news organizations may ask you to create a profile on their site to view their content.  Some may put their content behind a paywall -- WSU students, faculty and staff can view much of this content for free by searching the InfoTrac Newsstand database.

Please note that the Wichita State University Libraries do not endorse any specific political viewpoints in this guide.  It is presented for educational purposes only.

The contemporary interpretation of fake news typically refers to the practice of distorting, or in some cases outright falsifying, reports on current political news as a means of misleading an audience.  There are multiple goals behind spreading fake news:

-- To persuade an audience to hold one ideological viewpoint over others based upon "disinformation" -- false or less than completely factual information.  In this regard, fake news acts as propaganda.  Attempts at persuasion like this have led to a phenomenon in which people dismiss information with which they disagree as being fake news, even if that information has a factual basis.

-- To obscure genuinely factual information that would damage one or more political entities, such as a politician, a department of government, or an entire nation.  (For example, one nation seeking to exert influence over another nation by spreading fake news to the second nation's public).  How effective fake news is at doing this is debatable.

-- To make money.  Fake news can be a highly lucrative means of doing this, as this New York Times article highlights.

In order to understand fake news, one must first understand the concepts that underlie it -- for example, understanding what a "fact" is.  These concepts are explained further through the tabs on the left.

Road sign for the city of Lies, Belarus

Image by Wojciech Staszczyk, used under the creative commons license.

The word "fake" in the context of fake news is essentially a surrogate word for "lie," "lies," or lying."  Labeling a report as fake news is an attempt to portray it as reporting deliberately false information, or, more simply, lies.

Reporting that presents details of a developing story that later turn out to be incorrect or inaccurate is not an attempt to present fake news.  Rather it is the editorial process through which journalists check sources and confirm reports being on public display as the story unfolds.  No one is attempting to mislead anyone by reporting on the story -- the story just changes to ensure accuracy as it develops.  Fake news, by contrast, possesses a deliberate intent to mislead, by withholding facts, withholding details about facts, or outright making up false information.  The "What is a lie" box under the What is truth? tab to the left offers further information.

Whether a report does indeed present deliberately falsified  information, or whether it has some factual basis for presenting the content that it presents, is the crucial question.  The Critical thinking about information tab to the left offers guidance on how you can make such an assessment.


"Fake" spraypainted onto a newspaper vendor box

Image by throgers,
used under the creative commons license.


Merriam Webster:  The Real Story of 'Fake News': The term seems to have emerged around the end of the 19th century

Huffington Post:  Where Does The Term ‘Fake News’ Come From? The 1890s, Apparently

Smithsonian:  The Age-Old Problem of “Fake News”: It’s been part of the conversation as far back as the birth of the free press

BBC:  The (almost) complete history of 'fake news'

Politico:  The Long and Brutal History of Fake News

University of California, Santa Barbara:  A Brief History of Fake News

Our Best Hope Against Fake News? Your Local Librarian (free login required)

By Ryan Holmes

To date, some of the best, grassroots responses to the tide of fake and misleading news have come from the library community. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions put together a handy “How To Spot Fake News” infographic, which has been translated into 37 languages and used around the world. Librarians at Indiana University East developed an interactive fake news website, complete with tips on fact-checking and a deconstruction of an article about “hollow earth.” In webinars and slide decks, librarians are fighting back against misinformation.

In the years ahead, it’s not hard to see the role of librarian evolving further. What’s needed — more than just a pamphlet or a set of guidelines — is a sustained, comprehensive effort to train a new generation in media and information literacy for the social media era. This isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s an urgent and ongoing need — something that should be integrated into primary- and secondary-school curriculums everywhere. And librarians — alongside encouraging and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders — can be at the forefront of this charge.

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