News / Toronto

Trouble spotting fake news? UofT librarians have you covered

Librarians have developed a cheat sheet to help students, and the public, spot shady stories.

Websites like Snopes.com can help you debunk phony news.

Screenshot/Snopes / Snopes.com

Websites like Snopes.com can help you debunk phony news.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is Fidel Castro’s long-lost illegitimate son.

Barak Obama wants to get rid of the Statue of Liberty.

Those are just some examples of the fake headlines that have become all too common on social media sites like Facebook.

But don’t worry. If you’ve ever been fooled by a phony news story, the librarians at the University of Toronto have your back.

Librarians Heather Buchansky and Eveline Houtman have developed a simple guide to help students – and the public – figure out whether the news they’re reading is the genuine article.

Buchansky recommends looking at the domain name. When sites end in unusual ways, such as “.com.co,” it’s a clue they may be fake.

When in doubt there are a few handy websites that can help verify stories and sources, such as: FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, and Snopes.

Buchansky said response to the guide has been positive, even if “it hasn’t spread as far as fake news itself.”

Ryerson University journalism professor Gavin Adamson said many fake news websites “don’t stand up to due diligence.” In particular, he said sites with unfamiliar names or ones that lack other content are red flags for readers.

The problem of fake news was brought to the fore during the U.S. election, when a barrage of bogus stories confounded voters looking for information.

A recent study out of Stanford University also found many high school and college students were unable to tell the difference between fake news stories and real ones.

Both Google and Facebook have been under fire for circulating phony news, and have announced measures to curb the amount of misleading content they host.

For Jeffrey Dvorkin, lecturer and director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto Scarborough, fake news isn’t a new problem; even before the Internet, some tabloid newspapers would publish “quasi-real” stories, he said.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

“We shouldn’t freak out and figure the sky is falling, although the clouds are a bit lower than they used to be,” he said.

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