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Current Events: Fact Checks: Is Fake News Just
News I Don't Like?

Have a current event you want fact-hugged? Email jill.westen@wartburg.edu

Fake News: A definition

"FAKE NEWS refers to stories that contain clearly and demonstrably false information and are created (or shared) by entities who don't value accuracy and don't care about their long-term reputation."*

*The wording of the text on this page is based on the ACRL-Choice webinar (sponsored by Proquest), “The (Unintentional) Rebranding of a Longstanding Information Literacy Problem as “Fake News," streamed 8/23/17, by Dr. Adam Blackwell.* - See below to view in full (1st 30 minutes are speaker, last 30 are questions from audience) -


This term has evolved in the past year or so, as previously, "fake news" usually referred to satirical news programs such as The Daily Show. 

  • Using this current definition, The Onion is not fake news, even though their articles are not true--their purpose as a satire publication with is straightforward, and their reputation as a humorous publication with well-written articles is something they care about.
  • Breitbart, while biased and prone to exaggeration, isn't fake news unless it publishes outright fabrication (even so--your training in PATS should lead you to seriously question Breitbart's validity).
  • But ETF (Ending the Fed), a website that published a story about the Pope endorsing Trump in the 2016 election, is fake news--the story is false, and the website existed for a time simply to promote false information without concern about their longstanding reputation.

If someone is instead labeling news they don't like as "fake news," be sure you know how to tell the difference.

Who falls for fake news?

"Fake News" in its current definition is a phrase that has only been part of our collective consciousness since the summer of 2016--and yet, sources reporting information incorrectly have existed as long as the printed word. If you have learned our PATS method of evaluating, you have a good change of not being fooled by news that is false, because you will pick up on the falseness when you evaluate the purpose and authority.

We are all susceptible to fake news. None of us approach it as blank slates--instead, what we already believe strongly influences how we'll receive the fake news. You are unlikely to find fake news sources in the library databases, and you may naturally avoid them when finding other sources for school projects. However, when looking up information on your own time, the risk is greater.

This is why it is especially important to use PATS to evaluate the sources you use throughout your life--not just for homework, but the information you consume socially, informally, and "just for fun."

Fake news in history