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Evaluating False News and Misinformation

This Research Guide aims to discuss what False News is. It also shares tools and resources for evaluating False News.

False News Categories

There are four broad categories of false news, according to Media Professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites that sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4). Some articles fall under more than one category.

Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not. It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

Be wary of ads disguised as stories

The internet is a revenue-generating giant for advertisers, and some companies have found success in disguising their ads as news stories in website sidebars, feeds and at the footer of credible stories. You’ve surely seen the ads for “This one weird trick to help you lose weight.” Finding Good Health Information on the Internet can also be a slog through fake and biased information intended to sell you products. You can always trust Consumer Health Complete or PubMed for accurate, supported information on health issues.


Audience Bias: A tendency of individuals to see bias in news media reports because they are unconsciously viewing journalism through their own bias.

Bias: Sources that come from a particular point of view and may rely on propaganda, decontextualized information, and opinions distorted as facts. 

Clickbait: Outrageous headlines and stories designed to get readers to click open links to a particular webpage. Also referred to as a strategically placed hyperlink. Often uses exaggeration, questionable headlines, misleading social media descriptions, or fictitious images.

Confirmation Bias: When researchers or students seek out information that only confirms their existing beliefs. 

Content Farm: A website that contains very large quantities of content, typically of low quality or aggregated from other sites, generated solely to ensure that it appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.

Disinformation: False information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media.

False News/Hoax News: Sources that intentionally fabricate information, disseminate deceptive content, or distort actual news reports.

Media Bias: A pattern of unfairness or willful inaccuracy over time by a specific journalist or news outlet. Cannot be proven by a single isolated incident.

Misinformation: False or inaccurate information that is spread or shared unintentionally.

Parody/Satire: Sources that use humor, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, and false information to comment on current events. While they often use false headlines, they are created to poke fun at current events or people, not to convince readers that the information is true.

Rumor Mill: Sources that focus on rumors, gossip, innuendo, and unverified claims.



























Image from: "What makes a news story fake?" by Albuquerque Public Library