Fake News – How to Analyze Online Information

Letters spelling out fake news on scrabble tiles.

Identifying Fake News and Online Hoaxes

Are your students able to identify fake news or online hoaxes when they find this online? 

The internet is filled with altered images, hoax sites and fake news articles.  This makes it hard for all of us – students and teachers alike – to know if what we are reading is true. Researching information is an important skill for students for college and career. 

You can help your students think like professional “fact checkers” by teaching them to think critically about what they find on the internet.

Students must understand how to tell credible information from what is purely made up. Social media is filled with false, biased or altered pictures and information that students accept as true information.

Learning how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information is an essential skill.

One way to help students check the reliability of what they find online is by reading laterally. To read laterally, students read about the source before deciding whether the source can be trusted or not.

How to Read Laterally

To read laterally, first open multiple browsers and check what others are saying about the same topic. 

If discrepancies from reliable sources are found, then more investigation is needed to avoid falling for fake news or organizations with narrow agendas.

A great resource you might consider is the website Stanford History Education Group. This site  has lots of information on how to help students improve their media literacy skills.

Another excellent website that contains a vast amount of information on media literacy is the News Literacy Project.

Check out the New Literacy Project’s Checkology lesson to help students understand how and why conspiracy theories develop and why they are compelling for people.

You can use the information found on these sites to teach your students the skills they need to ask questions and protect themselves against “fake news” and unreliable information.

Reliability of Sources

Students should look carefully at who is providing the information.  Is this a reliable and trustworthy source? Is the organization reputable and well known in the content area? If not, they may be looking at fake news.

What is the website url?  Having an unusual website address that includes “.com” with additional letters after can often provide a clue that the website is not a reliable source. 

Even using this suggestion is not enough to identify sites that are less than reputable. You can tell students that sources that have “org” or “edu” or “gov”  they may be more credible but even this is not always a fool-proof way to determine information credibility.

A better way to fact check whether the information is likely to be credible is by checking to see if similar information is found on other sites. If only one site provides a piece of information, then more research may be necessary to determine whether the information is factual.

Is the author an expert in his or her field? How do you know? What is his or her background? What kind of an organization do they work for?

What evidence is there of expertise? Students should check the “about us” page to learn about the company or the author’s background and credentials. Who created the website? What are their possible biases?

Students should do more research about the organization and the author to see if the information gives any more clues on their reliability as an expert on the topic.

Can the author be contacted if the reader has questions? In fake news stories, there is often no way to contact the author or organization to ask questions or verify facts.

Is the information on an anonymous social media post from someone claiming to be an authority? Is there any evidence provided that can be verified with other sources?

When students understand the steps they can take to verify information, they are less likely to fall victim to fake news, conspiracy theories or misinformation.

Validity of Claims and Arguments

Does the writer make bold claims yet provide no sources or documentation to back up what is being said?

By searching multiple sources students will be able to spot problems with the information being provided. When was the article written and has it been updated? Are there charts, pictures, videos or other forms of data to back up the key points the author is making?  Is the information merely the author’s opinions? Does the article list references that can be found supporting the facts?

Are there several other websites that provide conflicting information when compared to the information found on this website? 

When a student searches for the author of the website, are there negative reviews that come up? Suggest that students check fact check websites such as:  www.Snopes.com, https://firstdraftnews.org,  or www.factcheck.org to see if the information has been verified or debunked by one of these fact checking websites.

Google now has it’s own tool called Fact Check Explorer which students can use to fact check information from the web about a topic or a person. You can access this tool at: https://toolbox.google.com/factcheck/explorer

Students can even read about recent fact checking reports by clicking on the “Recent Fact Checks” tab on the page.

To see if images may have been altered, students can conduct a reverse image search on google or use a website such as https://tineye.com  to find where images appear on line. 

Your students can also download a Fake Image Detector for Chrome or Firefox browsers.

2 newspapers on a table with a cup of coffee
Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories and “Fake” News is a Growing Problem on the Internet

Conclusion for Fake News

It is vital that students understand how to do effective research when they are online.

Students need to know how to determine whether what they are reading is true and verifiable. At some of the websites that provide resources for teachers, such as the  News Literacy project, you can learn even more about how fake news, misinformation and disinformation is eroding truth and reliability in our society.

Another helpful website where you can find excellent information on fake news is https://www.kqed.org. This organization not only provides classes for teachers but they have an excellent YouTube channel with student-friendly videos that can be used in class to help students understand misinformation and fake news.

While online media such as Twitter and Facebook recently started flagging some sources of misinformation or disinformation, it does not catch everything.

Fake news, online hoaxes, conspiracy theories and the deliberate distribution of misinformation abounds.

Unfortunately, unreliable information and “fake news” are not going away anytime soon. For this reason, it is important to help students develop a critical eye when reading online.

We must train our students to think like fact checkers so that they do not fall victim to misinformation, lies, conspiracy theories and downright false information when they surf the web.

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