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The Truth is Out There! Media Literacy - Identifying Credible Information: What is Fake News?

Fake news websites are websites that publish hoaxes, propaganda, or disinformation to increase web traffic through sharing on social media. Unlike news satire, where humor is the object, fake news websites seek to increase their traffic by knowingly circulating false stories. Fake news websites have promoted misleading or factually incorrect information concerning the politics of several countries including: Germany, Indonesia and the Philippines, Sweden, China, Myanmar, Italy, France, Brazil, Australia, India, and the United States. Many of the false news sites are hosted in Russia, Macedonia, Romania, and the U.S.

This definition of "fake news" is adapted from Wikipedia.  The original text can be accessed here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news_website

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A Description of this Issue

Though the phenomenon of  "fake news" has recently appeared in an avalanche of news stories, social media posts, and web commentary, it is not new.  That is, the reporting of unsubstantiated rumor and out right falsehoods or hyperbole for purposes of propaganda or nefarious reasons is as old as humanity itself.

What is new is the ability of such "news" or "information" or "facts" to be so widely distributed in a matter of minutes and hours across all information outlets both official and not so official.  Also, the rise of social media  - where anyone can produce "news" and comment on everything - has increasingly balkanized sources for information and greatly decentralized  sources of news and information.  This has led to the discreditation and disparagement of traditional sources of authorized information (government and news media) as well as allowed people to get information and news from only within their own "bubble" sphere of political and social belief.  Thus, any news or information not produced or vetted by the guardians of a particular bubble (whether private citizens or corporate entities) is viewed as "fake news" by those within the bubble.

This lack of a central accepted source of "real" information points to the need to be able to think critically and evaluate sources and claims based on objective criteria - what science has historically called empirical facts and testable evidence.