Just the Facts: Evaluating News Sources

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In this era of information overload it can be hard to tell what is a reliable source and what may be peddling fake news. You can do your best to evaluate statements and sources using these guidelines and independent review sites.

Step one: Know the definition

Fake news is any intentionally or unintentionally published hoaxes, propaganda, and misinformation which uses social media to drive web traffic and amplify the effect. Unlike news satire, fake news seeks to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain. It can also include poorly or insufficiently researched stories and personal opinions presented as fact.

Step two: Ask evaluating questions

  • Who is the source?
    Well known news sources with long histories of publishing objective stories are more reliable than personal blogs that might be the first and only publication on the subject. Also look out for clever imitations of new site URLs when accessing information. (i.e. abcnews.com vs abcnews.com.co).
  • Why was this made?
    Look for sources that present facts instead of opinions and  which offer multiple perspectives instead of a single viewpoint.
  • Did you read more than the headline?
    Headlines are meant to grab attention, so read more of a piece before interpreting the headline as fact.
  • Who is the author?
    Make sure there is an author listed and check the author’s bio for awards and publication history. If details seem unfamiliar or suspicious, crosscheck the information elsewhere.
  • When was it published?
    Check the date to make sure that it is current and not something that happened months or even years ago.
  • Does it sound far-fetched?
    Crosscheck anything that sounds too good, or too terrible, to be true.

Step three: Learn more

Double check information at fact checking sites:
Politifact.com
Snopes.com
Factcheck.org

Other resources:
Take this News Literacy MOOC at Coursera
Consult this fake news sites list maintained by Snopes
Read this article full of fake news information from The Guardian

When in doubt, ask a librarian: 
You can reach library staff at JMRL by email at reference[at]jmrl.org or on our website through text or chat.

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