Fact or Fiction…or Fake?!

I am beginning to wonder if this module is a sort of crystal ball, running parallel to my dissertation! Just as other topics did (Digital Divide and Digital Residency) fake news links very strongly to my work.
It is a quite a complex phenomenon and I have therefore prepared this short video, providing some definitions and some examples.


Looking for Fakes!

The impacts of fake news are plentiful (Stecula, 2017), showing why energy is being expended to identifying information online. There are two main approaches to this, automatic or user identification.
Automatic identification is handled by an algorithm, either through the social network itself, or as an add-on. I have selected two attempts to highlight this:
  • 97% success in highlighting fake images vs real ones on Twitter after Hurricane Sandy (Gupta et al., 2013)
  • Wang’s dataset can be used to contribute to a text-based deep learning model for fake news identification (Wang, 2017)
However, there are limitations to this. Firstly, it would be almost impossible to generate an automatic identification algorithm which is accurate 100% of the time. So whilst they may go some way to helping, any fake news which is not identified will become more powerful as our dependency on algorithms increases.
Educating Users
Therefore, another approach is to educate users, and to better understand how to “make the truth louder”, one call of action from a report published with recommendations on how to deal with Fake News (Lazer, 2017). This has been explored less, but an incredibly exciting piece of research is the “BadNews” game produced by Cambridge researchers and others, to show how malicious actors try to spread fake news. (Sample, 2018). I fully recommend you give it a go! FactCheck.org’s brilliant article also aims to educate, and I have summarised this below (Robertson and Kiely, 2018).


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There are therefore a variety of approaches to identifying fake news, and it should be clear that is in all of our interest to educate ourselves, as we’re doing right now!


Word Count: 323



Reference List:
Allcott, H. and Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, [online] 31(2), pp.211-236. Available at: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.31.2.211 [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].Barthel, M., Mitchell, A. and Holcomb, J. (2016). Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion. [online] Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. Available at: http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].D’Ancona, M. (2017). Post truth. 1st ed. London: Ebury Press.Gupta, A., Lamba, H., Kumaraguru, P. and Joshi, A. (2013). Faking Sandy: characterizing and identifying fake images on Twitter during Hurricane Sandy. WWW ’13 Companion Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on World Wide Web, [online] pp.729-736. Available at: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2488033 [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].Kiely, E. and Robertson, L. (2018). How to Spot Fake News – FactCheck.org. [online] FactCheck.org. Available at: https://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Meade, A. (2018). Australia’s trust in media at record low as ‘fake news’ fears grow, survey finds. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/feb/07/australias-trust-in-media-at-record-low-as-fake-news-fears-grow-survey-finds [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Sample, I. (2018). Bad News: the game researchers hope will ‘vaccinate’ public against fake news. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/20/bad-news-the-game-researchers-hope-will-vaccinate-public-against-fake-news [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Siddique, H. (2018). Just one in four Britons trust news on social media, finds survey. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/jan/22/just-one-in-four-britons-trust-news-on-social-media-finds-survey [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Silverman, C. and Singer-Vine, J. (2016). Most Americans Who See Fake News Believe It, New Survey Says. [online] BuzzFeed. Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/fake-news-survey?utm_term=.wmbW7W41m#.hv9NxNw9A [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Stecula, D. (2017). The real consequences of fake news. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/the-real-consequences-of-fake-news-81179 [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018].

Steinmetz, K. (2017). The Dictionary Is Adding An Entry for ‘Fake News’. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/4959488/donald-trump-fake-news-meaning/ [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].

Wang, W. (2017). Liar, Liar Pants on Fire”: A New Benchmark Dataset for Fake News Detection. Cornell University Library Computation and Language (cs.CL). [online] Available at: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1705.00648.pdf [Accessed 8 Mar. 2018].


5 comments for “Fact or Fiction…or Fake?!

  1. 15th March 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Tom!
    I enjoyed reading your blog – an interesting and in-depth look at Fake News. I especially liked the video and the quiz at the end which is really useful to check knowledge of how to be critical of the media and what we learnt in the MOOC as being ‘information literacy’. In your ‘educating users’ part I see you don’t mention digital literacy or the three literacies in the MOOC. What are your thoughts on these literacies? Do you think its easier for people to understand and be educated using fact checkers and through games rather than the concept of ‘literacy’? It certainly feels like that may be the case.

    For those of us in higher education I found one resource useful called the ‘Seven Pillars of Information Literacy with the digital literacy lens’ found here: https://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Digital_Lens.pdf . It’s almost like a marking criteria but I can definitely see it being complex for those who haven’t been introduced to the concept of digital literacy or studied web science. I’d love to know your thoughts on this and whether you think fact checkers and games are the future of education in identifying and being critical of Fake News.

    • 20th March 2018 at 11:29 am

      Hi Luke,

      Many thanks for reading and for your reply to this post. The literacies you mentioned are something I would have liked to have explore, but I felt limtied a bit by space. I appreacited reading about them in your post though, particularly media literacy. I think there is definitely mileage in teaching media literacy, as best we can.

      I agree the resource you share there is complex, but it is definitely helpful, and could be distilled down to be more approrpriate. I think education is the future of fake news in general, but I am still unsure exactly how to do this. What are your thoughts?

  2. 15th March 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Tom,

    The concept of fake news is fascinating. As the spread of fake news is seemingly pervasive, spotting fakes is more important than ever. Therefore, I am intrigued your blog targeted the approach to identifying fake news. I agree, the generation of an automatic identification algorithm which is accurate 100% of the time is almost impossible. Therefore, I think it’s extremely important to educate people about the nature of Fake news and how to filter out fictitious information.

    As such, I was excited to see news that the BBC are rolling out a training programme which will see up to 1,000 secondary school children differentiate between real and fake news. However, what role do you think parents play in ensuring their children can identify fake news?

    Also, whilst sites aiming to educate users are important, how difficult do you actually think it will be to get people actively using sites such as Factcheck.org as suggested?

    Once again, thanks for the great read! I look forward to hearing from you.

    • 20th March 2018 at 11:32 am

      Hi Stefan,

      Great comment – thanks! I actually sign post a BBC tool in my reflection, is this the same one you were talking about? http://www.tjdav.me.uk/reflecting-news-games/2018/03/19/

      I think parents definitely have a role in education, but it is also important to note that they can contribute to the filter bubble, influencing their children wiht their own political views.

      I think it I can be hard to get people to actively use these sites, which is why education as to why the use is so important could be key to increasing motivation, in my opinion.



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