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Fake News and News Bias

In the News NOW

Read a study by BU COM Professors Amazeen and Guo:

Vargo, Chris J, Guo, Lei,  Amazeen, Michelle A. The agenda-setting power of fake news: A big data analysis of the online media landscape from 2014 to 2016New Media & Society 6/15/2017. 

Also new:

Allcott H, Gentzkow M (2017) Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives 31(2): 211–236. Access through JSTOR Arts & Sciences.

Rutenberg, Jim. Waiting for Facebook To Share MoreNew York Times, 18 Sept. 2017, p. B1(L). Accessed 20 Sept. 2017.

Post was approached with false claim about Moore The Washington Post, November 28, 2017 Tuesday, A-SECTION; Pg. A16, 2389 words, Shawn Boburg; Aaron C. Davis; Alice Crites.  source: ProQuest Recent Newspapers; see also  Project Veritas seemingly caught feeding false Moore accusations to Washington Post  By Cristiano Lima 

Can you tell the difference?



One tweet is real, the other a fabrication. Can you tell which is which?

Did your mother call you to tell you that liberals hate science?  Did your Facebook feed pop up with an article on a new pesticide that's going to kill us all?  Did one of your friends tell you that President Trump was going to pardon mass shooter Dylann Roof?  You might have heard any or all of these stories, but there's one thread connecting all of them: they're not true.

Fake news spans across all kinds of media - printed and online articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, radio shows, even still images. The ability to tell accurate news from fake news is an important skill that you'll use for the rest of your life.  Let BU Librarians help you distinguish fact from fiction.

Even the best researchers will be fooled once in a while.  If you find yourself fooled by a fake news story, use your experience as a learning tool.

What kinds of fake news exist?

There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on outrage by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

Here's a 32-page-alphabetical list she compiled of  False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources.


No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category. 

Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.


What can I do to avoid fake news?

Consider the source.

  • Is it a .com? .org? .edu or .gov? 
  • Is the source from a Google search? BULSearch? Or did you use an academic database? You can save yourself some time and headaches by using sources discovered through the subscription resources your library provides. (HINT: We have 461 databases - and counting. Research Guides can steer you to the best databases for your research.)

Can you verify the claims from other reputable sources? 

  •   Does the source footnote/attribute its claims? Do the links actually go to corroborating information?

Be skeptical.

  • Does the site have ads? 
  • What's the author's background? 
  • If the source is a think tank or nonprofit, is there a discernible bias (political leanings or funding from a special interest group)?

Check the date.

  • Facts can't be 'alternative', but the understanding of events and science changes with every new discovery or research breakthrough. Make sure you're using the most recent legitimate sources or findings on a given subject.


About this content

Full disclosure - Much of this content is adapted from a research guide originated by KT Lowe, Coordinator of Library Instruction and Service Learning at Indiana University-East, and made freely available to educators through  Creative Commons  Thank you, KT.