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Evaluating Online Sources

Learn how to evaluate whether a website and its contents are reliable.

What Is Fake News?

"Fake news" means different things to different people. For some people, it refers to falsified news reports purposefully designed to deceive people. For others, "fake news" refers to any information that they don't like or agree with. Because of this, it can be difficult to have a productive conversation about the problem of "fake news."

"The term 'fake news' once referred to misinformation designed to look like legitimate news, but the term has been rendered meaningless and counterproductive through overuse and political weaponization."

While the term "fake news" may be overly politicized, it is a very real problem that we should all be aware of, especially when searching for information online. The short video below [3:19] discusses how the term "fake news" gets used (and misused), and examines some of the differences between real news and fake news:

Beyond Fake News: Misinformation and Disinformation

Misinformation: False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.

Disinformation: A form of propaganda involving the dissemination of false information with the deliberate intent to deceive or mislead.

Oxford Dictionary

"Fake news" is a form of disinformation. Misinformation and disinformation spread online extraordinarily quickly, and they can take many different forms. Some misinformation is simply a little misleading or even accidental, while other types of disinformation are purposefully intended to manipulate and deceive, such as propaganda. 

Infographic Description

The Different Types of Online Misinformation

Misinformation further down on the list is more intentional.

  • Satire/Parody: No intention to cause harm but has potential to fool
  • False Connection: When headlines, visuals, or captions don't support the content
  • Misleading Content: Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual
  • False Context: When genuine content is shared with false contextual information
  • Imposter Content: When genuine sources are impersonated
  • Manipulated Content: When genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive
  • Fabricated Content: New 100% false content designed to deceive and do harm


How to Spot Fake News

How to Spot Fake News Infographic

Infographic Description

How to Spot Fake News

  • Consider the Source: Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • Read Beyond: Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?
  • Check the Author: Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  • Supporting Sources?: Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • Check the Date: Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.
  • Is It a Joke?: If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • Check Your Biases: Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement. 
  • Ask the Experts: Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.