2/01/2017 Peter Durantine

Workshops Help Students, Staff and Faculty to Identify Fake News

Who to turn to for guidance in an internet-dominated age of fake news and filter bubbles? The one time-honored source anyone can count on – a librarian.

At Franklin & Marshall College, the librarians at Shadek-Fackenthal Library organized a workshop, staged at two locations in the building, on Jan. 31. It focused on identifying fake news, and on recognizing that the social media and search engine sites you choose regularly will algorithmically tailor the information you receive.

“As librarians, we worry about people thinking critically in the world,” said one of the organizers, Meghan Kelly, research and emerging technologies librarian, explaining the reason for the workshops. “The proliferation of fake news means people aren’t thinking critically.”

Customizing information is something Facebook, Google and other sites have been doing for years, according to a TEDx talk that was shown during the workshop. To break out of the filter bubble and avoid getting fed personalized news and information, you must rely on your own initiative to seek other points of view on the web.

At the workshop conducted by Kelly and Brianna Gormly, digital initiatives librarian, the librarians asked the estimated 40 students, faculty and staff seated in Shadek’s SparksSpace how they determine whether an online news source is credible. 

The library offered some simple ways to determine whether a website is legitimate as a news source. These measures include the following:

  • Check the website’s URL. If it looks odd, such as ending in ".com.co" (nbc.com.co, for example), it’s a fake version of a real news site. Other questionable sites have names ending in "lo," such as newslo.com.
  • Verify a website’s legitimacy as a news source by looking at its “About Us” page. If it doesn’t have one, that is a red flag. An article without an author’s name is another sign to be wary. Check to see if the website has been identified as fake news by websites that look for such sites, including Snopes.com.
  • Check writing style. Sites with story headlines in ALL CAPS and using multiple exclamation points and featuring stories that are written in emotional hyperbole are not legitimate news sites.
  • Search for other reporting on the story. If no other sites are reporting the story, it should be considered with suspicion.
  • Watch out for headlines designed to shock and encourage sharing, commonly referred to as "clickbait."

Another measure is to check your sources, Kelly said. The library provides an Evaluating Source guide, libguides.fandm.edu/evaluating. Readers also can email the library staff with questions: ask.us@fandm.edu.

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