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Misinformation and Fake News

Are you curious what fake news is and how to identify it? This guide explores the problem of misinformation and provides strategies for checking facts.

Evaluating USing IMVAIN

If you're interested in another method for evaluating news sources, you might like to try the acronym IMVAIN.

I: Independent - Independent stories are more reliable than self-interested ones

M: Multiple - More than one source is better than one

V: Verify - Stories that use evidence to verify their claims are better than asserted opinions

A / I: Authoritative/Informed - Sources with authority that are informed are better than uninformed sources

N: Named - Named sources are better than unnamed sources

Four Moves and a Habit

Michael Caufield from Washington State University Vancouver developed a strategy for fact checking that he calls "Four Moves and a Habit." Below we break down those strategies in more detail.

Quick Strategies

  1. Think before you share. Read most or all of an article before you share it.
  2. Install a B.S. Detector browser plug-in.
  3. Re-think your news diet. Are you in a filter bubble? Try consuming your news through a site like
  4. Verify claims made in the media you encounter (see right).
  5. Be skeptical. Get in the habit of asking questions, especially when you are feeling emotional about the claim, or when the claim aligns with your beliefs.

Four Moves and a Habit

Move #1) Check for previous work

Take advantage of the fact-checking work that sites like Snopes and Politifact may have already done. If you feel wary or suspicious of those sites, they often lay out the evidence they used to fact-check a claim; go ahead and confirm those sources yourself.

Move #2) Go Upstream to the Source

Sometimes a news source will simply repost or rewrite content from another source. Rather than evaluating the downstream source, it makes more sense to go upstream to the original.

You may also find examples of sponsored sources in stories you read. These sources pay money to be able to share information about their stories with you and entice you to click. Sometimes these stories have legitimate information, but other times the headline won't necessarily match the content.

It might also sometimes be necessary to find the original source of a photo in order to check its credibility. There are a couple of ways to do this, but one quick way in Chrome is to right-click the image and select "Search Google for image." This will give you a sense of whether or not the photo is a hoax pretty quickly. You might also want to add search terms like "hoax" or "doctored" to see if any evidence of tampering comes up.

Move #3) Read laterally.

When evaluating a source - be it the author of an article or the news producer itself - it can be tempting to look for clues and evidence from the source itself. But efficient fact-checkers spend little time learning about a source by exploring it; they instead look for evidence about the source from others. Once easy way to do this is to do a search in Google, DuckDuckGo, or the web searching engine of your choice like this: Substitute in the URL for the news source you're investigating and you'll get a list of stories or news about that source from other sources.

Wikipedia gets a bad rap, but it can be very useful in fact-checking. Not only are the details of Wikipedia articles observed and corrected by many people, Wikipedia authors must follow strict guidelines for citing credible sources and using a neutral tone or they're flagged by the community. Wikipedia can be a good place to look for details about a news source you're investigating.

Move #4) Circle back.

It can be frustrating and complicated following a claim through the fact-checking process. If you ever hit a dead-end or find yourself with lots of new, useful information about the claim, try circling back to your original search. Often, you'll have better keywords to use and a more informed eye when it comes to spotting evidence about the claim.

Habit: Check your emotions

When encountering information on social media or other online contexts that makes you righteously angry, outraged, vindicated, or another other strong emotion, STOP. This is a sign that the content could use some extra skepticism and caution. This is both because you are likely more susceptible to biased thinking when the content makes you emotional, and because misinformation is often couched in these inflammatory packages exactly because you are more likely to share. Be responsible and show your commitment to facts by taking a moment to fact-check those claims.

Fact-Checking Practice!