Fake News Investigation and Evaluation

Real, truthful news and fake, false news differ dramatically in quality and reliability, although it can be difficult to clearly distinguish between them in many online environments. The following activities are designed to develop your skills and perspectives as a fake news investigator and critical news evaluator.

People get news today from sources ranging from television, social media (e.g., Twitter, TikTok) and legacy news outlets (i.e., New York Times, Washington Post) as well as teachers, parents, family members, and peers. Yet, there is a real difference in quality and reliability between real news and fake news.

Fake news resembles real news in form (it typically has headlines, images, quotes, and a news-like look on screens), but not in how it is produced organizationally. Real news is derived following the standards and rules of journalism. It is fact-based and fact-checked from verified sources. It is presented objectively and truthfully in a journalistic style of writing. It is independent of political or corporate influences. Fake news, by contrast, is just what the term says -- information that is intentionally false and misleading (Molina, et al., 2021).

Misinformation and Disinformation: Thinking Critically about Information Sources from the College of Staten Island offers a further explanation of fake news and misleading, unreliable and deliberately false information.

Given the amount of fake and false news online and in print, every individual must become their own fact checker and news analyst - determining for themselves what is credible and reliable information and what is fake and false misinformation.

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You can get more background information from Topic 7.4 Social Media, Digital News, and the Spread of Misinformation and Topic 7.5 Evaluating Print and Online Media in our Building Democracy for All eBook.

Activity 1: Analyze Your Online Search Habits 

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Example Mindmap for the Search Topic "Montessori Schools" by Kayleigh Francis:

Montessori schools mindmap featuring 4 sources with a description of whether each source is credible and what was learned from the source
This image is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0


Example Mindmap for the Search Topic "Homeschooling" by Sara Shea:

Example mindmap for the search topic Homeschooling with 4 sources and a description of what was learned and whether the source is credible
This image is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0

Activity 2: Create a News Evaluation Tool

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Example News Evaluation Tool by Sophia Hajjar:

Mindmap of Detecting Fake News: Does it PPASE the test. Popularity, prose, advertisements, structure, evidence
This image is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0


Example News Evaluation Tool by Grace McAlpine:

Picture: Is there a picture involved with the post or article? Some questions to ask yourself when analyzing a photo: Could anyone have made this photo? - this could be things like basic memes, pictures of quotes, etc. Could this photo be taken out of context? - A lot of times, photos might not actually prove anything and the post itself supplements the photo. Reverse image search to see when the photo is actually from and if it pertains to a different topic. Could this photo be manipulated or fabricated? - Basic editing software and the rise of Artificial Intelligence allows users to manipulate existing photos or create completely new images. Reposting: Is the information being reposted? Who is reposting it? Who is reposting the information? A friend who notoriously gets swept up in misinformation? Your grandfather who has wildly opposing political views from yourself? A politician who constantly contradicts themselves?  The people reposting information and articles can be very telling if something is misinformation! Evidence: Does the information cite sources or provide general evidence? Is the information presented in a way where the author is simply just stating their own opinion with no evidence to back it up? Blog posts and tweets can not always be taken as truth. Make sure that the source cites research articles or references articles from notoriously credible sources. Source: Does the information originate from a reliable source? Is the information coming from a notoriously reliable source? Reliable news source examples include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and PBS just to name a few. Make sure that the information is originating from a credible source that has proven its credibility time and time again in the past. Structure: How is the information presented? The devil is in the details - make sure to pay attention to ads that may show up, how the URL is spelled, where other links on the site may bring you to. If anything seems a little off-putting or incorrect, this may point to misinformation!

Activity 3: Evaluate the Benefits and Challenges of Getting Political News on Social Media to a Democratic Society

Nearly half of adults ages 18 to 29 in this country get their political news mostly on social media. The figure is 1-in-5 across all age groups. Those getting political news from social media also tend to be less well-informed about political issues and policies (Pew Research Center, July 30, 2020).

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Evaluate the Benefits and Challenges of Digital News and Social Media to a Democratic Society by Maria Trifiro

Activity 4: Investigate Twitter's Blue Check Verification Policy

Twitter (now X) was an important source of political news for many social media users, and the nature of information on the site has changed dramatically since Elon Musk became owner and CEO in late October 2022. Musk changed the site's "blue check" verification policy that previously served as a way for users to confirm that authentic information came from actual people or organizations.

Twitter verified badge
Twitter verified badge | Public Domain

Under the new policy, only X Preminum accounts can receive a blue check mark verifying the account is authentic. This means users are required to pay for verification status (Twitter Is Officially Ending Its Old Vertification Process on April 1, CBSNews, March 24, 2023).

Many individuals and organizations have refused to do so, and, as a result, it has become even easier for those posting on Twitter to impersonate other people, to claim to be a public agency or local politican or government official, or to present totally false and politically damaging information. Essentially anyone can post anything and users are left to decide for themselves what is true and what is not.

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Evaluate the benefits and challenges of digital news and social media to a democratic society. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.4]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication. 
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8

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