Unit 5 - Hunting fake news through critical reading

Activity 3: Towards a definition of fake news

Estimated time: 70 minutes

Learning Objectives

  • Reflect on and analyse what are the typical elements and features of fake news.
  • Develop some skills and useful strategies to spot fake news.

Resources needed

  • Internet connection.

Exercise 1: Starting from your own experience

Let’s turn to the concept itself of “fake news”. Please answer the following questions:

Why do you think fake news items are created and spread?
Have you ever read an article that turned out to be fake news? If so, where did you find it? In what language was it written? What was the article about? What made you recognise it as fake news rather than reliable information?
How aware do you think your students are of fake news? Why do you think this?
To what extent is the topic of fake news and critical literacy addressed in your curricula?

Exercise 2: Hunting for a definition


Now search on the internet for a definition of fake news. Paste in the box below the definition that you consider most clear and comprehensive. Did you learn something new about fake news that you didn't know? If so, what?
You may have found something along the following lines. Fake news items are false or misleading stories and information designed to look like news, usually created to be widely shared or distributed for the purpose of generating revenue, promoting or damaging the reputation of a public figure, a political movement, a company, etc. The spreading of fake news has increased with the rise of social media, especially Facebook. In fact, nowadays many people have access to news from social media and websites and often it can be difficult to establish whether stories are true or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the Internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoaxes. In fake news the content can be misleading, manipulated or even completely false, thus deliberately designed to deceive and harm. Moreover fake news often presents a false connection between the information provided and the context of the article: in these cases the content is not supported by the headlines, visuals or captions. The term “fake news” refers also to satirical articles which are characterised by the use of exaggerations and introduce non-factual elements that are primarily intended to amuse, but also have the potential to fool.

Exercise 3: The point of view of academia

Read carefully the following definitions of “fake news”.

Fake news is the deliberate presentation of (typically) false or misleading claims as news, where the claims are misleading by design. The phrase ‘by design’ here refers to systemic features of the design of the sources and channels by which fake news propagates and, thereby, manipulates the audience’s cognitive processes (Gelfert, 2018, p. 84). […] much of the initial credibility of fake news derives from real-world back-stories, and almost all fake news purports to be about real-world actors and entities. After all, fake news purports to be news, not fiction. Many fake news stories are not wholly false, but mix deliberate falsehoods with well-known truths as a means of obfuscation […] Similarity in appearance to legitimate news media is certainly an important feature of fake news aimed at disseminating false or unreliable claims […] (Gelfert, 2018, p. 100). Fake news is the presentation of false claims that purport to be about the world in a format and with a content that resembles the format and content of legitimate media organisations (Levy, 2017, p. 20). A fake news story is one that purports to describe events in the real world, typically by mimicking the conventions of traditional media reportage, yet is known by its creators to be significantly false, and is transmitted with the two goals of being widely re-transmitted and of deceiving at least some of its audience (Rini, 2017, p. E45).
What is the main feature of the phenomenon which is particularly emphasised by all the authors mentioned above?

All authors emphasise that fake news is deliberately and meticulously created to be very similar in terms of formatting, design and content to real news. Such a strategy allows the creators of fake news to confuse, deceive and manipulate readers, and to disseminate more easily false information which appears to be true. This phenomenon makes the development of critical thinking and reading even more necessary, as it is not always easy to realise that what we are reading does not correspond to reality, or at least not completely.

Exercise 4: Survival skills against fake news

Visit the following website which gives some tips to spot fake news (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/fake-news.htm).


Were there any tips you found particularly useful? Can you put them in order from the most important to the least? Please refer to the numbering of the tips given in the text.
Develop a Critical Mindset
Check the Source
See Who Else Is Reporting the Story
Examine the Evidence
Don't Take Images at Face Value
Check That it "Sounds Right"
Which of the strategies do you think your learners are aware of? Do you already teach any of these? How relevant are they to your subject?
Can you think of any other useful tips to add to the list?

Activity completed!

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