Posts Tagged ‘information literacy’

What Fake News Is…and What It Isn’t

Was Nino Rubbed Out? I Read it at CVS!

Photo by Mike Licht

Well before Google and Facebook became common household words, there were already many different incarnations of what we’ve started calling “fake news.” Supermarket tabloids heralding dubious evidence for the existence of UFOs or the latest celebrity scandals are among fake news’ closest ancestors. The famous 1938 broadcast of director Orson Welles’ radio drama, War of the Worlds, fooled audiences into thinking Martians had invaded Earth. Tellingly, Welles revealed that the production company was motivated, in part, by a desire to teach the public about the dangers of uncritical acceptance of news on the new technology of radio (Schwartz). Indeed, as early as 1475, false reports of Jews abducting and drinking the blood of children have been used to agitate a credulous public against a common scapegoat (Soll).

More recently, several prominent contemporary journalists have been disciplined for lapses in journalistic integrity that include exaggerating for dramatic effect (NBC’s Brian Williams), giving undue credence to their informants (The New York Times’ Judith Miller), and outright fabrication (The New York Times’ Jayson Blair). These eyebrow-raising lapses by journalists working for highly reputable news outlets all defy a clear code of ethics for journalists.

Other variants in the “not quite news” category include segments on late night comedy shows such as The Daily Show or even Saturday Night Live. They may mention events documented by journalists following established procedures for verification of facts, but they clearly present themselves as humor, not journalism. We might also include in this category the nightly pundit shows that satisfy the 24-hour news cycle’s voracious appetite for content. Like late night comedy shows, pundits add commentary but can’t be properly described as producing reporting that meets journalistic standards.

Advertising also plays an important role in determining the content of our media whether we’re talking about print, television, or digital. Fake news’ defining characteristic is that its authors willingly report falsehoods to garner clicks on a story’s link. All this works in the interest of making money from web content through online advertising services such as Google’s AdSense. To add to the confusion, fake news websites may even have misleading URLs that mimic popular media sites like or Furthermore, the global nature of digital communication means that this is a problem both in the U.S. and internationally.

So what ISN’T fake news? When a major news organization reports on news that we don’t like or that is eventually proven incorrect, that does not qualify as “fake news” if it was based on credible sources. Similarly, if a news organization reports on a public leader who says something false, that is not fake news if the public leader actually said it. Major news organizations like CNN reported prior to the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide. Were they reporting fake news? No, they were reporting the results of national polls — and polls can be wrong.

News media has its own bias as well. This infographic attempts to show the liberal and conservative leanings of many major news organizations, but we may also consider whether the infographic itself might also be biased. What do you think?

To help us get better at spotting fake news, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has created a handy infographic that recommends several ways to evaluate the news we hear and see. In addition, non-partisan fact-checking websites like Snopes, Politifact, and easily debunk hoaxes while also providing context on how a hoax or “fake news” report began. Finally, the Monroe Library is also here to help you sift through an increasingly unnavigable and often misleading media landscape. For more info, see our research guides on Fake News and Evaluating Web Pages, or contact your library liaison for help.

IFLA infographic based on’s 2016 article “How to Spot Fake News” in PDF format

What is a peer-reviewed journal article?

Scholarly literature has a process for ensuring high quality in what is printed. This means that you can read scholarly material with high confidence that it is accurate and represents good thinking in that field.

If I’m an author and want my article to appear in a scholarly journal, I submit it to an editor for that journal. The editor is the first line of defense and can reject manuscripts of obviously low quality. If my article is approved by the editor, copies go out to recognized experts in the field. They are generally researchers or faculty members at reputable colleges, universities, and research institutions (private or government). These people are my peers. They review the article and respond to the editor. The are usually three responses:

  • The article is fine as it stands and can be added to other articles for future publication.
  • The article is not acceptable and should not be published under any circumstances.
  • The article has some flaws and may be publishable with some changes. They may also make specific criticisms to be corrected before publication.

The editor then lets me know what the reviewers thought of it. If most reviewers feel that it needs some changes, I can decide whether to make the changes or submit the article somewhere else. If I make the changes, I then send the article back to the editor. The revised version may go back to the reviewers, who again respond, or it may be added to the pool to be published in the future.

This process takes some time. Some journals give the date submitted and date accepted in the article itself when it’s published. Look for it to see how long the gap is between submission and acceptance.

You can be confident that a peer-reviewed journal article is substantially accurate in the information that it reports, the methods used and the conclusions drawn. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t open to criticism by other researchers. Others might be doing the same or similar work and have different results.

A “refereed” article is the same as “peer reviewed.” The referees are my peers who reviwed the article. Magazine articles are written by professional journalists and writers and reviewed only by an editor.

I keep seeing the word citation. What does that mean?

A citation refers to a book, article, website, score, speech, or other published item uniquely. You’ll find citations to books and articles in library databases and the library catalog. These citations give you the information — title, author, date of publication, etc. — you need to find the actual item. When you write an essay that refers to research material, you’ll create a bibliography or works cited page that lists all the citations you used. To learn more, visit our Citing Sources section:

What is interlibrary loan?

Interlibrary loan provides access to materials not owned or available through the Monroe Library.  We can borrow books and get copies of articles, book chapters and dissertations.  It’s free for you, and you can learn more here: