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What is fake news?

What is fake news? And should we be worried about it?

Simply speaking, fake news is material produced with the specific intent of disseminating misinformation, or hoaxes—essentially “clickbait” content—in order for publishers to gain financially (with online ad revenue), or increase political polarization.

Sometimes, you can spot fake news by a sensationalist, or exaggerated, or an outright false headline. However, it’s not always so cut-and-dry. Fake news sites range from “some” fake news, to parody/satire, to patently fake, to imposter news sites. Oftentimes, it takes a keen eye to spot fake news.

A check list for spotting fake news:

  • Are there any red flags in the domain name (URL) (such as
  • If you Google the source of a quote, or figure of an article, can the information be verified? If the quote doesn’t have a source, there’s your canary in a coal mine.
  • If you come across an article from an obscure website about Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian joining ISIS, is this story also being reported by major news agencies? You can bet your bottom dollar, if it were true, newspapers such as the New York Times or the Washington Post would cover it.
  • Does the website have an About or Contacts page? If not, then it’s most likely fake. If so, do the contacts look like stock photos? Do an independent search and verify individual names.
  • Is it satire (the Onion, McSweeney’s, ClickHole, Borowitz Report)?
  • Share responsibly! “Analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the campaign than reports from (for example) the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.” Source:

Glossary of Terms

Fake News: False reports of events, deliberately published hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media.

Hoax: A humorous or malicious deception

Imposter Site: A website that assumes the identity of another site with the intent to deceive.

Yellow Journalism: Journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.

Clickbait: Content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular webpage.

Propaganda: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Bias: Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered unfair.

Satire News: Satire is a literary genre that employs humor when making commentary on individuals or activities and their perceived vices, shortcomings, or mistakes. Examples include, The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight.

Parody: An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect.

Fact: A thing that is indisputably the case.

News: Newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events.

Misinformation: false or inaccurate information that is spread whether or not with the intention to mislead.

Disinformation: deliberate spread of misleading or bias information; manipulated narrative or facts.

Deepfakes: videos that are edited using an algorithm replacing the person in the original video with someone else in a way that the video looks authentic.

Adopted from Honolulu Community College.  

How you can stop the spread of fake news

Spotting Fake News (video 3:22)


PolitiFact's Fake News Almanac helps determine fake news websites, imposter sites, and parody sites.

The example below depicts which at first glance appears to be legitimate news. However, this website is actually an imposter of ABC News. When you see, chances are, it is not what it appears to be.

This is an imposter site.

Screen shot of news from ABC News