The proliferation of fake news across the internet, especially on Facebook, has become one of the major talking points in the wake of the shocking result of the 2016 US presidential election (with some arguing fake news helped elect President Donald Trump). Regardless, it seems to be getting harder and harder to discern the difference between trustworthy journalism and fake content created for the sake of a click—but it's not at all impossible.
Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication & media at Merrimack College, started a list of websites known to have published articles with false information as a way to help her students learn about journalism and media literacy. Thanks to the magic of Google Documents, it's now accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Read the entire public document here (via Gennady Kolker). (Update: Zimdars has since removed the list entirely, telling Motherboard in an email on November 18 that she took this action after being "doxed/harassed" by readers of some of the sites included. Read her full statement at the end of this article.)
The growing guide is meant to be an educational tool for combating fake news. The list includes nearly 150 websites Zimdars and her students have called out for the potential for spreading misinformation, including those masquerading as real media outlets (such as MSNBC.com.co and abcnews.com.co), those that are complete satire (The Onion, ClickHole) and those with a baiting or heavily biased tone (Upworthy, Crooks and Liars, InfoWars).
(Update: Upworthy, along with a few other sites, has since been removed from the list because it was being reported on as a "fake" news site when it had originally been included not because it was fake, but because of its tone.
"I removed Upworthy and a couple others, at least temporarily, out of concern over the way this list is being reported on," Zimdars told us in a follow-up email. "A lot of headlines read 'fake news list,' and that is not entirely representative of the list. I'm also concerned because I've heard rumors of people creating blocking technologies and I don't think any of the sources/websites on this list should be blocked for a number of reasons.")
Bad web design, headlines that incite an emotional reaction, ALL CAPS ANYTHING, and community-section bloggers posting under the banner of news outlets are a few tells for fake news.
Zimdars writes that her antidote for fake news is to read or listen to a variety of sources and be widely informed, naming The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal as some of her go-to, trustworthy news outlets. But even these sometime "rely on particular media frames to report stories and select stories based on different notions of newsworthiness." All media should be consumed with a critical eye — and when fake news is capable of shaping so much, it's never been a more important lesson.
Read Zimdars' full statement on why she has since removed the list here:
"I removed the actual list from the document, at least for the time being, for two reasons. Firstly, I am currently being doxed/harassed (and indirectly threatened) by readers of some of the websites on the list (as are my colleagues and even one of my students). This kind of activity is *exactly* why those websites were included on my list in the first place, and this kind of activity, largely by the alt-right, will likely be a major road block to anyone who is critical of them.
Secondly, there are a few different groups working on building different databases for assessing news (in all its categories). One of them will likely containing "ratings" based on various assessment factors (sourced from journalists, professors, and even just readers), another will likely contain more information about each source (who publishes it, how long it has existed, etc.) and examples of headlines or stories to support a website's inclusion in a particular classification. "
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