Misleading and false information in the political sphere is not new, but its reach into our daily lives has created a challenging storm of information that each of us must now navigate. Political strategists, social media, and click-bait headlines have fogged the lines between opinion and evidence, unfortunately leaving us vulnerable to deceptive practices. This guide explores fake news and provides practical tools for quickly evaluating the credibility of information. Analyzing what we see and hear is vital to a functioning, healthy citizenry.
Clickbait: something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest. (Merriam Webster)
Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias refers to processing information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one's expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome (Encyclopedia of Social Psychology).
Conspiracy Theory: a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators. (Merriam Webster)
Disinformation: false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth. (Merriam Webster)
Fake News: Politifact/Punditfact recently provided a definition of fake news in their article "Fact-checking fake news reveals how hard it is to kill pervasive ‘nasty weed’ online."
... [Is] a concerted effort by a website or other form of media to fabricate information in order to influence political opinion or win financial gain. Perhaps the most insidious component of these kinds of hoaxes is that quite often, they simply sound plausible, especially to people who want to believe them. That’s because such stories can frequently be based on a kernel of true information, but portray it out of context or surrounded by made-up details.
Misinformation: Information that is inaccurate, but not maliciously so.
Propaganda: Propaganda is a communicative technique that seeks to manipulate the opinions and attitudes of a targeted audience. It intends to change existing belief systems, value structures, and political positions in order to create specific attitudes toward a subject of public discourse in a manner favorable to the propagandist. Specific messages usually are linked to an overwhelming ideology. Propaganda is directed at a large number of people and thus is communicated by mass media. It can use different media genres, such as speeches, advertisements, editorials, articles, songs, or posters. Propaganda is a function of the political system and strives to gain or defend political power (Encyclopedia of Political Communication).
PsyOps: A variety of techniques that seek to influence the emotions, attitudes, and behavior of selected audiences in support of political and military objectives. Psychological warfare, also known as psychological operations (PSYOPS), usually connotes nonlethal attempts to gain advantage over the enemy (Encyclopedia of United States National Security).
This guide was developed by Kimberly Pendell with help from Beth Pickard.
Thanks to the Reference Department at Loyola Marymount University, who allowed us to adapt their guide, Keepin' It Real: Tips & Strategies for Evaluating Fake News.