Skip to main content

Information Literacy in an Era of Alternative Facts & Fake News

This guide provides background information, links, suggestions, and tools from outside organizations to help users in navigating potential fake news

Information Literacy in an Era of Alternative Facts & Fake News

In the months leading up to the 2016 US Presidential election, fake news outperformed real news on Facebook, according to BuzzFeed. There is evidence that fake news has influenced elections in other countries as well. This strikes at the heart of information literacy, which the American Library Association defines as the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information."

Evaluating the information you find online and elsewhere, to determine its use and truthfulness, is a key skill. With such a proliferation of fake news circulating on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, how can we make informed decisions?

Fake News is a Real Problem graphic

What Kinds of Fake News Exists?

There are four broad categories of fake 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 which 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.

Adapted from Indiana University East