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Fake News and Media Bias

Oxford Dictionaries recently announced post-truth as its 2016 international Word of the Year. Oxford defines the word as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

2005, Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness". Wikipedia defines "truthiness" as "a quality characterizing a 'truth' that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively 'from the gut' or because it 'feels right' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts."

Can you sort truth from truthiness? Will you be a champion of facts in a post-truth era?

This guide is designed to help students, teachers, and parents develop the right mix of practical skills, a disposition towards seeking truth, and a healthy skeptical outlook necessary to navigate our increasingly complex and truthy media landscape.

Be a savvy consumer of information and news

  • Who says? - Click on the 'About Us' page to learn more about the author or publisher and to look for potential bias. Don't be afraid to do your own research - Google the author or the name of the website to see if they been in the news themselves for anything controversial. Add the search term "fake" too see if they've been accused of producing fake news.
  • Check sources  - Click the links within the article - try to find the original study, report, news article, picture, tweet, or anything else being referred to and make sure it actually says or does what your source claims. If they are making big claims and not including links to outside sources, this can be something to look out for.
  • Look for multiple stories - If no one else is reporting something, it is a huge red flag!
  • Headlines tell a story too - Outrageous claims and headlines using provocative or emotional language are all warning signs for fake or misleading news.
  • Beware of Lies by Omission - Just because a source is presenting accurate information it doesn't mean it's presenting all the information.
  • Pictures can lie - Images and videos can be manipulated. Unaltered images can be used out of context or not accurately described. Use the same criteria that you would to check on a written story. Pictures can also be used influence readers - an unfavorable picture of person can influence your opinion of him or her before you even read anything about them.
  • What exactly are you reading? - Even when you are on a traditional, established, reputable site, make sure you know what type of information are reading. Is it a feature story? An investigative report? An editorial or opinion piece? An article by a guest blogger? An advertisement disguised as an article or editorial (called an advertorial).
  • Watch out for Mimic URLs - Fake news sites often try to mimic a real news organization but change the .com to .co, or get the name slightly wrong.
  • Look for clues on the site - Is there a "Contact Us" page? Does it makes sense? Fake news sites often have no contact information or the information doesn't make sense (example: a fake ABC News website had a picture of a church in Kansas on the contact page) Is there an excessive amount of ads and pop-ups? Are the ads "click bait" designed to take readers to another site?

Valenza, J. (2016, November 26). Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world. Retrieved December 08, 2016, from

Bias: A predisposition that distorts your ability to fairly weigh the evidence and prevents you from reaching a fair or accurate judgment.

Confirmation Bias: Pursuing information that reassures or reflects a person’s particular point of view.

Context: Background or ancillary information that is necessary to understand the scope, impact, magnitude or meaning of new facts reported as news ... the circumstances that form the setting for an event or statement ... ideas or facts that give greater meaning to a news report so that it can be fully understood and assessed.

Direct Evidence: Anything that was captured firsthand or on the scene (i.e. video, recordings, photographs, documents, records, eyewitness accounts). Direct Evidence, which gives us a direct line to the story is better than Indirect Evidence, which is a step or two removed from the events.

Independence: Freedom from the control, influence or support of interested parties. Journalists are expected to avoid reporting on matters in which they may have a financial stake, personal/familial ties, or intellectual prejudice by virtue of declarations of allegiance.

Indirect Evidence: Secondhand or recreated information (i.e. accounts from official spokesmen, expert reconstructions, hearsay testimony, computer models).

Journalistic Truth: The best obtainable version of the truth on any given day.


Definitions from The Stony Brook Center for News Literacy's Glossary: The Language of News Literacy

Plus, check out On the Media's awesome Breaking News Consumer Handbook series. They call it "a life raft, a decoder ring, a treasure map to truth. With the one and only The Breaking News Consumers Handbook you can glide through the murky waters of the media like a Navy seal."