Skip to main content

Evaluating Information and Avoiding Fake News

Types of Fake News

According to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College, there are four broad categories of fake news.

BulletCATEGORY 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.
BulletCATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information
BulletCATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions
BulletCATEGORY 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.

Always assess the quality of the content you use to make sure it is good information!

What can I do to avoid fake news?

Avoid Fake News (1) Check the source - is it a .com? .org? .edu or .gov? Is the source from a Google search or did you use an academic database? (2) Use the CRAAP Test - Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority, and Purpose. (3) Check the claims in the article. Can you follup up with them using reputable sources? (4) Question everything. Does the site have ads? Is the source from a think take or nonprofit that has a stake in the subject of the article? What's the author's background? (5) Check any links in the article. Doe they actually lead to information that verifies something in the article?

How do you know?

What makes a news story fake? (1) You can't verify its claims. A fake news article may or may not have links in it tracing its sources; if it does, these links may not lead to articles outside of the site's domain or may not contain information pertinent to the article topic. (2) Fake news appeals to emotion. Fake news plays on your feelings - It makes you angry or happy or scared. This is to ensure you won't do anything as pesky as fact-checking. (3) Authors usually aren't experts. Most authors aren't even journalists, but paid trolls. (4) It can't be found anywhere else. If you look up the main idea of a fake news article, you might not find any other news outlet (real or not) reporting on the issue. (5) Fake news comes from fake sites. Did your article come from Or These and a host of other URLs are fake news sites.