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Information and Media Literacy: How to Spot the Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Ugly

Information and media are everywhere, and it can be hard to keep up with, let alone to ensure the news you are receiving is accurate. This guide is designed to encourage you to examine the information you receive and feel you can determine its quality.

What is Fake News?

Many people consider the phrase fake news to be outdated. This is because the term has been used often in order to politically belittle the arguments of others. However, because it still is used in some contexts, we will include and discuss the term here.

As with so many terms surrounding mis- and disinformation, it is hard to find a universally-accepted definition of fake news, but there are some characteristics that all fake news generally has:

  • Fake news may be an online article, a statistic, a social media post, an image/infographic, or other piece of information.
    • Fake news is not an organization or an individual.
  • Fake news is packaged and/or formatted so that it looks like legitimate and accurate news.
  • Fake news is deliberate disinformation.
    • Fake news is not a mistake or an accident.
  • Fake news is intended to mislead public opinion.
    • Fake news is not a satire or a parody.
  • Fake news may take a few words out of a quotation, a few numbers out of a survey, and/or a partial photograph in order to prove a point.
  • A fake news article may not provide its sources of information, or the sources might not be something you can verify.

(For definitions, see Some Key Terms for the Savvy Searcher on this page.)

Why should you care about whether or not your news is real or fake?

  1. You deserve the truth. You are smart enough to make up your own mind - as long as you have the real facts in front of you. You have every right to be insulted when you read fake news, because you are being deliberately deceived.
  2. Real news benefits you. If you want to buy stock in a company, you need to read accurate articles about that company so you can invest wisely. If you are planning on voting in an election, you need to read as much accurate information on a candidate so you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs. 
  3. Fake news destroys your credibility. If your arguments are built on bad information now, people may find it much to believe you in the future.
  4. Fake news can hurt you and a lot of other people. For example, those who spread fake news about medical discoveries help perpetuate myths that can actually be damaging to your health!

Source: “News You Can Use | Reality Check” by Media Smarts: “Online news is one of the hardest things to verify. Sometimes early reports that turn out not to be true still circulate on the Internet, and people may spread false reports for commercial or malicious reasons, or even just for ‘fun.’ Here are three tips to help make you a savvy reader – and sharer – of online news.” (description from Media Smarts YouTube site)

Some Key Terms for the Savvy Searcher

term definition source
bias a) an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : PREJUDICE; 
b) an instance of such prejudice
Webster Dictionary
clickbait an internet story, title, image, etc. that is intended to attract attention and encourage people to click on a link Cambridge Dictionary
confirmation bias people’s tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with their existing beliefs.  Britannica
crisis actor

a professional or volunteer actor who plays a role in a staged drill in order to prepare or train first responders for a specific emergency scenario; or (in a false flag conspiracy theory) a person pretending to be a victim in a hoax attack.
deepfake any of various media, esp. a video, that has been digitally manipulated to replace one person's likeness convincingly with that of another, often used maliciously to show someone doing something that he or she did not do. Oxford Languages
disinformation deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda
filter bubble an environment and especially an online environment in which people are exposed only to opinions and information that conform to their existing beliefs Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
go viral if a video, image, or story goes viral, it spreads quickly and widely on the internet through social media and email. Collins Dictionary
misinformation incorrect or misleading information Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
parody a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
satire a poem or (in later use) a novel, film, or other work of art which uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary.  Oxford Languages
troll a troll is Internet slang for a person who intentionally tries to instigate conflict, hostility, or arguments in an online social community. GCF Global