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The hot new thing in the world of media is websites that are completely bogus.
Facebook, a primary driver of traffic to publications, has come under fire for allowing the promotion of fake news websites and sites that deal in conspiracy theories rather than facts. Some Facebook employees even reportedly revolted and took matters into their own hands.
Many have questioned whether the rise of fake news contributed to the election victory of President-elect Donald Trump, and both Facebook and Google have responded by cutting these sites out of their advertising networks and otherwise making their stories harder to find. And PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site, has launched a new section devoted to fake news.
But those sites are still out there, and someone on your Facebook friend's list is probably sharing one of their stories right now. If you want to check out whether a story is from a dubious source yourself, you can use one of these three Google Chrome plugins.
For a quick look at sites that publish suspicious stories that may confuse readers, Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled a list of “fake, false, or regularly misleading websites” that purposefully publish fake information or are otherwise entirely unreliable. The list, which has since been removed due to threats and harassment Zimdars says she received, also included sites that “may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information” or “sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions.”
The list included both left- and right-wing publications, and it is regularly updated or amended. Here is how Zimdars has categorized them:
“CATEGORY 1: Below is a list of fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits. These websites are categorized with the number 1 next to them.
“CATEGORY 2: Some websites on this list may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information, and they are marked with a 2.
“CATEGORY 3: Other websites on this list sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions, and they are marked with a 3.
“CATEGORY 4: Other sources on this list are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news. I’m including them here, for now, because 1.) they have the potential to perpetuate misinformation based on different audience (mis)interpretations and 2.) to make sure anyone who reads a story by The Onion, for example, understands its purpose. If you think this is unnecessary, please see Literally Unbelievable.”
Below is the complete list, which Zimdars originally published under a Creative Commons license that allows publishers to freely reprint the list. Keep in mind: Not all of these sites are intentionally spreading fake news, so pay attention to the rating.
- 100PercentFedUp.com (2,3)
- EnduringVision.com (1)
- 21stCenturyWire.com (2, 3)
- 70news.wordpress.com (1)
- The Free Thought Project (3)
- Abcnews.com.co (1)
- Politicalo (1)
- ActivistPost.com (2, 3)
- Addicting Info (3)
- AmericanNews.com (1)
- AnonNews.co (3)
- Private-eye.co.uk (includes 4)
- Huzlers (4)
- Indecision Forever (1)
- RealNewsRightNow.com (1, 4)
- Bipartisan Report (3)
- Infowars.com (1, 2)
- Red State (3)
- Blue Nation Review (2,3)
- Reductress (4)
- Breitbart (2, 3)
- RileNews.com (1, 4)
- Call the Cops (4)
- Cap News (4)
- Sportspickle.com (4)
- ChristWire.org (4)
- The Free Thought Project (3)
- CivicTribune.com (1)
- Borowitz Report (4)
- ClickHole.com (4)
- The Onion (4)
- CoastToCoastAM.com (2)
- The Other 98% (3)
- CollectiveEvolution (3)
- MediaMass.net (1)
- ConsciousLifeNews.com (2)
- MegynKelly.us (1)
- ConservativeOutfitters.com (2)
- MSNBC.com.co (1)
- ConspiracyWire (WideAwakeAmerica.com) (2)
- MSNBC.website (1)
- CountdownToZeroTime.com (2)
- Naha Daily (4)
- NationalReport.net (4*)
- CreamBMP.com (1)
- Twitchy.com (3)
- News-Hound.com (1)
- NewsBiscuit.com (1)
- US Uncut (3)
- DCGazette.com (1)
- Newslo (1, 4)
- NewsMutiny.com (1, 4)
- DrudgeReport.com.co (1)
- DuffleBlog.com (4)
- World News Daily Report (4)
- Empire News (1)
- Occupy Democrats (3)
In addition to the list, Zimdars has created a tip sheet for news consumers so that we all might better decipher what's real, what's fake, and what's simply misleading in ways that have nothing to do with whether you agree with a particular article or not:
Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo (above). These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources
Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
- It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.
So stay vigilant, readers. It's a minefield out there.
Update 9:44am CT, Nov. 18: IJR (Independent Journal Review) has been removed from the original list, and we've updated our story to reflect that.
Update 10:35am CT, Nov. 18: Professor Zimdars has removed the list from her original Google Doc due to threats and harassment she received, the Los Angeles Times reports. We have reached out to Zimdars and will update this piece with more information as it becomes available.
Update 8:15am CT, Nov. 28: We have removed all sites included in Zimdars' original list that lacked a category ranking.
Update 2:25pm CT, Dec. 5: *We've changed the ranking on NationalReport.net to a "4" due to the clearly satirical nature of the stories now on the site. This is not the original ranking given by the author of the list.