How to Spot Misinformation and Bias in the Media

Did you see that thing on Facebook about Bill Gates, Hostess Twinkies, and the Cleveland Browns? Well, on social media it said that he has stopped Hostess from selling Twinkies so that the Browns will win the Super Bowl.  Is that true?  How does one figure out whether what is being reported is the truth, is misinformation, or even which news has a bias one way or another?  This blog post will give you some hints and tips to help know what is true, what is false, and what is true but is trying to influence you.

Before we talk about misinformations, let’s talk about bias.

A recent Gallup and Knight Foundation poll (Aug 2020) shows that the vast majority of Americans (84 percent) say that the news media is “critical” or “very important,” and that half (49 percent) of all Americans think the media is very biased. Three in four people (74 percent) worry that owners of media companies are influencing coverage. They also suspect that inaccuracies in reporting are purposeful, with 54 percent believing that reporters misrepresent the facts, and 28 percent believing reporters make them up entirely.

Journalist are supposed to follow a set of principles that include truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.  How can you tell if the news being reported is biased, and what should you look for to see if the news report has strayed from these principles? has a great article on 11 Types of Media Bias. Media bias can include:

  1. Spin
  2. Unsubstantiated claims
  3. Opinion statements presented as facts
  4. Sensationalism/emotionalism
  5. Mudslinging/ad hominem
  6. Mind reading
  7. Slant
  8. Flawed logic
  9. Bias by omission
  10. Omission of source attribution
  11. Bias by placement.

For more information on identifying these types of biases, check out the article.

Just because something doesn’t fit with our own personal beliefs doesn’t (necessarily) make it biased or fake news. Confirmation bias, as it pertains to news, means that we tend to seek out the sources that confirm our existing bias. We tend to watch just the conservative news or just the liberal news, depending on whether our own beliefs lean toward conservative or liberal.  This means we are not getting the whole picture of news and events in our world. How do you get a more complete picture? You need to seek out sources that challenge your bias. In other words, get your news from a spectrum of sources.

What about misinformation?

We hear it all the time these days, that this or that story is “fake news”. The story of an accident on the freeway isn’t “fake news”.  Your favorite sports team winning the big game isn’t fake either, right?  For the most part that is correct.  Though those articles and news stories may have bias, as we said above, but the events (the accident and the team’s win) are true.

To spot fake news, ask yourself these questions:

    • Can it be verified? See who else is reporting the story. Has anyone else picked up on the story? What do other sources say about it? Examine the evidence. A credible news story will include plenty of facts, quotes from experts, survey data, and official statistics, for example, or detailed, consistent and corroborated eye-witness accounts from people on the scene. If these are missing, question it!
    • Does it appeal to my emotions? Bear in mind that fake news is designed to “feed” your biases, hopes or fears.
    • Who is the author? Is it a journalist with credentials? An expert in the issue being discussed?
    • Does it link to a REAL website? Check the web address for the page you’re reading. Spelling errors in company names, or strange-sounding extensions like “.infonet” and “.offer,” rather than “.com” or “,” may mean that the source is suspect.

In addition, don’t take images at face value. Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images that look real. However, there are some warning signs you can look out for. Strange shadows on the image, for example, or jagged edges around a figure. Images can also be 100 percent accurate but used in the wrong context. For example, photos of litter covering a beach could be from a different beach or from 10 years ago, not the recent alleged event. You can use tools such as Google Reverse Image Search to check where an image originated and whether it has been altered.

Finally, use your common sense! If something doesn’t sound right, be careful.  After all, do you really think Bill Gates has stopped Hostess from makings and selling Twinkies so that the Cleveland Browns will win the Super Bowl?  Does that sound right?

For more information on fake news join our Heights Libraries Tech Trainer Ann on Wednesday, October 21 at 4pm via Facebook Live for our Tech Talk on How to Spot Fake News.

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