How to Detect Bias and Fake News

Everyone has his or her own attitude, point of view, and worldview. However, we often assume news stories and media outlets will be objective and present only the facts. But do they?

Throughout your work in Social Studies, you will be expected to complete research using external sources. However, recognizing whether your sources are legitimate and serious may be more difficult than anticipated.

There is definitely a difference between Bias and Fake News. Review the tabs below to clarify how sources may be biased, or (in some cases) outright fake!

  • Selection/omission: Sources can choose which events should be covered, and what about the event should be communicated to the public. Certain details may be ignored or manipulated to give viewers a specific version of the events.

  • Placement: Where a news item is placed in a newspaper or program can impact its importance. For example, the first page of a newspaper seems more important than a story in the middle of the paper.

  • Headlines: The way a headline is worded and the font size/type can express an opinion or message.

  • Photos/captions/narration: Photos (angles, colour, size) and the captions around the photos can flatter or insult the subjects. On TV, the focus of the camera (such as the time spent, or which subjects are in the main frame) can influence a viewer's perspective of the event.

  • Word Choices: What level of writing/speaking is being used in the coverage? Are there lots of "buzzwords", slang, or repeated statements?
  • Compare a variety of news reports or media stories on the same topic to get the whole picture of an event.

  • Read/view/listen to the news story in full before forming an opinion

  • View or review different images/broadcasts of a news event to form a complete picture of the event being portrayed.

  • Listen actively and carefully. What is the purpose of the broadcast/news story? Are you meant to have an emotional reaction, be more informed, take action?
*also called "alternative facts," "alternative information,""additional facts," "incomplete information"

  • Deception: The creation of stories, videos, articles, news shows, or other media with the sole intention to deceive the viewer/audience

  • Emotional reaction: When you encounter media texts where your initial response is emotional (ie. angry, insulted, sadness) the degree of truth in the content may be in question.

  • Independent media outlets: How long has the media outlet been in business? What are the credentials of their content creators? Are you able to follow up the writing/videos with facts outside of the content? Consider media outlets (such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the Globe and Mail) have demonstrated a consistent pledge to coverage and reporting complete news stories.

  • Timeline/dates: If the date of the article/video is wrong, or even the timeline of the event is off, it is probably fake news.

  • Joke sites: Check to see if the website is actually a joke/satirical site, which is meant to be humorous.

  • Clickbait: The title/headline, or content focus of the event can impact how many people view it. Typically clickbait content is created for profit, increasing viewership numbers, or attract attention.
  • Consider the source: The author/writer, the media outlet, or even the website host can all point to fake news.

  • Compare a variety of news reports or media to get a whole picture of the event being covered.

  • Check the sources/facts: Is there research attached to the story? Who wrote/created the sources? Is the research accessible to the viewer/reader?

  • Ask an expert: Ask a professional, or go to a fact-checking site.

  • Check your own bias/beliefs: Are your personal experiences or your judgement clouding objective reading/viewing?

It is important to identify bias and fake news when you are completing research for Social Studies. Don't hesitate to ask your teacher questions to ensure you are choosing reputable, serious, and complete research sources.