Select Page

Explain at least five elements of critical thinking that you found in the reading material.
Search the Internet, media, or the UAGC Library, and find an example in which good critical thinking skills are being demonstrated by the author or speaker. Summarize the content and explain why you think it demonstrates good critical thinking skills.
Search the Internet, media, or the UAGC Library, and find an example in which the author or speaker lacks good critical thinking skills. Summarize the content and explain why you think it demonstrates the absence of good, critical thinking skills.

 https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/critical-thinking-skills-to-master-now/

Critical Thinking and the Challenges of Internet

https://fod.infobase.com/OnDemandEmbed.aspx?token=145229&wID=100753&plt=FOD&loid=0&w=640&h=360&fWidth=660&fHeight=410

American Library Association

Library Technology
R E P O R T S

E x p e r t G u i d e s t o L i b r a r y S y s t e m s a n d S e r v i c e s

alatechsource.org

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age

Joanna M. Burkhardt

http://alatechsource.org

Library Technology
R E P O R T S

Abstract

The issue of fake news has become very prominent
in recent months. Its power to mislead and misinform
has been made evident around the world. While fake
news is not a new phenomenon, the means by which
it is spread has changed in both speed and magni-
tude. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twit-
ter, and Instagram are fertile ground for the spread
of fake news. Algorithms known as bots are increas-
ingly being deployed to manipulate information, to
disrupt social media communication, and to gain user
attention. While technological assistance to identify
fake news are beginning to appear, they are in their
infancy. It will take time for programmers to create
software that can recognize and tag fake news with-
out human intervention. Even if technology can help
to identify fake news in the future, those who seek to
create and provide fake news will also be creating the
means to continue, creating a loop in which those who
want to avoid fake news are always playing catch up.

Individuals have the responsibility to protect
themselves from fake news. It is essential to teach
ourselves and our students and patrons to be critical
consumers of news. This issue of Library Technology
Reports (vol. 53, no. 8), “Combating Fake News in the
Digital Age,” is for librarians who serve all age levels
and who can help by teaching students both that they
need to be aware and how to be aware of fake news.
Library instruction in how to avoid fake news, how
to identify fake news, and how to stop fake news will
be essential.

Library Technology Reports (ISSN 0024-2586) is published eight times a
year (January, March, April, June, July, September, October, and Decem-
ber) by American Library Association, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611.
It is managed by ALA TechSource, a unit of the publishing department of
ALA. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, Illinois, and at additional mail-
ing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Library Technology
Reports, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611.

Trademarked names appear in the text of this journal. Rather than identify
or insert a trademark symbol at the appearance of each name, the authors
and the American Library Association state that the names are used for
editorial purposes exclusively, to the ultimate benefit of the owners of the
trademarks. There is absolutely no intention of infringement on the rights
of the trademark owners.

Copyright © 2017
Joanna M. Burkhardt
All Rights Reserved.

alatechsource.org

ALA TechSource purchases fund advocacy, awareness, and
accreditation programs for library professionals worldwide.

Volume 53, Number 8

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age
ISBN: 978-0-8389-5991-6

American Library Association
50 East Huron St.

Chicago, IL 60611-2795 USA
alatechsource.org

800-545-2433, ext. 4299
312-944-6780

312-280-5275 (fax)

Advertising Representative
Samantha Imburgia
[email protected]

312-280-3244

Editor
Samantha Imburgia
[email protected]

312-280-3244

Copy Editor
Judith Lauber

Production
Tim Clifford

Editorial Assistant
Colton Ursiny

Cover Design
Alejandra Diaz

About the Author

Joanna M. Burkhardt is Full Professor/Librarian at the
University of Rhode Island Libraries. She is Director of
the branch libraries in Providence and Narragansett and
the URI Libraries Collection Development Manager. She
earned an MA in anthropology from the University of
Wisconsin–Madison in 1981 and an MLS from the Uni-
versity of Rhode Island in 1986. She has taught informa-
tion literacy to both students and teachers since 1999.
She has given workshops, presentations, podcasts, key-
note addresses, and panel discussions about information
literacy. She is coauthor or author of four books about
information literacy. She addressed the topic of fake news
at the ALA Annual Conference in 2017 and designed a
poster and bookmark on that topic for ALA Graphics.

Subscriptions
alatechsource.org/subscribe

http://alatechsource.org

mailto:somburigia%40ala.org?subject=

http://alatechsource.org/subscribe

Chapter 1—History of Fake News 5
Pre–Printing Press Era 5
Post–Printing Press Era 5
Mass Media Era 6
Internet Era 6
Global Reach of Fake News 7
Notes 8

Chapter 2— How Fake News Spreads 10
Word of Mouth 10
Written Word 10
Printed Media 11
Internet 11
Social Media 12
Notes 12

Chapter 3—Can Technology Save Us? 14
Technology of Fake News 14
Big Data 15
Bots 15
Experiments in Fake News Detection 16
Experiments in Bot and Botnet Detection 17
Google and Facebook Anti–Fake News Efforts 18
Notes 19

Chapter 4—Can We Save Ourselves? 22
Learn about Search Engine Ranking 22
Be Careful about Who You “Friend” 22
ID Bots 23
Read before Sharing 23
Fact-Check 24
Evaluate Information 24
Seek Information beyond Your Filter Bubble 26
Be Skeptical 26
Use Verification and Educational Tools 26
Notes 27

Chapter 5—How Can We Help Our Students? 29
Teach Information or Media Literacy 29
Make Students Aware of Psychological Processes 30
Tie Information Literacy to Workplace Applications 30
Teach Students to Evaluate Information 31
Teach Information Literacy Skills and Concepts 31
Teach the Teachers 32
Conclusion 32
Notes 33

Contents

5

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

History of Fake News

“Massive digital misinformation is becoming pervasive
in online social media to the extent that it has been listed
by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as one of the main
threats to our society.”1

F
ake news is nothing new. While fake news was in
the headlines frequently in the 2016 US election
cycle, the origins of fake news date back to before

the printing press. Rumor and false stories have prob-
ably been around as long as humans have lived in
groups where power matters. Until the printing press
was invented, news was usually transferred from per-
son to person via word of mouth. The ability to have
an impact on what people know is an asset that has
been prized for many centuries.

Pre–Printing Press Era

Forms of writing inscribed on materials like stone,
clay, and papyrus appeared several thousand years
ago. The information in these writings was usually
limited to the leaders of the group (emperors, pha-
raohs, Incas, religious and military leaders, and so on).
Controlling information gave some people power over
others and has probably contributed to the creation
of most of the hierarchical cultures we know today.
Knowledge is power. Those controlling knowledge,
information, and the means to disseminate informa-
tion became group leaders, with privileges that others
in the group did not have. In many early state soci-
eties, remnants of the perks of leadership remain—
pyramids, castles, lavish household goods, and more.

Some of the information that has survived, carved
in stone or baked on tablets or drawn in pictograms,
extolled the wonder and power of the leaders. Often

these messages were reminders to the common peo-
ple that the leader controlled their lives. Others were
created to insure that an individual leader would be
remembered for his great prowess, his success in bat-
tle, or his great leadership skills. Without means to
verify the claims, it’s hard to know whether the infor-
mation was true or fake news.

In the sixth century AD, Procopius of Caesarea
(500–ca. 554 AD), the principal historian of Byzan-
tium, used fake news to smear the Emperor Justin-
ian.2 While Procopius supported Justinian during his
lifetime, after the emperor’s death Procopius released
a treatise called Secret History that discredited the
emperor and his wife. As the emperor was dead, there
could be no retaliation, questioning, or investigations.
Since the new emperor did not favor Justinian, it is
possible the author had a motivation to distance him-
self from Justinian’s court, using the stories (often
wild and unverifiable) to do so.

Post–Printing Press Era

The invention of the printing press and the concurrent
spread of literacy made it possible to spread informa-
tion more widely. Those who were literate could eas-
ily use that ability to manipulate information to those
who were not literate. As more people became liter-
ate, it became more difficult to mislead by misrepre-
senting what was written.

As literacy rates increased, it eventually became
economically feasible to print and sell informa-
tion. This made the ability to write convincingly
and authoritatively on a topic a powerful skill. Lead-
ers have always sought to have talented writers in
their employ and to control what information was

Chapter 1

6

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

produced. Printed information became available in
different formats and from different sources. Books,
newspapers, broadsides, and cartoons were often cre-
ated by writers who had a monetary incentive. Some
were paid by a publisher to provide real news. Others,
it seems, were paid to write information for the ben-
efit of their employer.

In 1522, Italian author and satirist Pietro Aret-
ino wrote wicked sonnets, pamphlets, and plays. He
self-published his correspondence with the nobility of
Italy, using their letters to blackmail former friends
and patrons. If those individuals failed to provide the
money he required, their indiscretions became pub-
lic. He took the Roman style of pasquino—anonymous
lampooning—to a new level of satire and parody.
While his writings were satirical (not unlike today’s
Saturday Night Live satire), they planted the seeds of
doubt in the minds of their readers about the people in
power in Italy and helped to shape the complex politi-
cal reality of the time.3

Aretino’s pasquinos were followed by a French
variety of fake news known as the canard. The French
word canard can be used to mean an unfounded rumor
or story. Canards were rife during the seventeenth cen-
tury in France. One canard reported that a monster,
captured in Chile, was being shipped to France. This
report included an engraving of a dragon-like creature.
During the French Revolution the face of Marie Antoi-
nette was superimposed onto the dragon. The revised
image was used to disparage the queen.4 The resulting
surge in unpopularity for the queen may have contrib-
uted to her harsh treatment during the revolution.

Jonathan Swift complained about political fake
news in 1710 in his essay “The Art of Political Lying.”
He spoke about the damage that lies can do, whether
ascribed to a particular author or anonymous: “False-
hood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that
when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the
jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.”5 Swift’s
descriptions of fake news in politics in 1710 are
remarkably similar to those of writers of the twenty-
first century.

American writer Edgar Allan Poe in 1844 wrote a
hoax newspaper article claiming that a balloonist had
crossed the Atlantic in a hot air balloon in only three
days.6 His attention to scientific details and the plau-
sibility of the idea caused many people to believe the
account until reporters failed to find the balloon or
the balloonist. The story was retracted four days after
publication. Poe is credited with writing at least six
stories that turned out to be fake news.7

Mass Media Era

Father Ronald Arbuthnott Knox did a fake news
broadcast in January 1926 called “Broadcasting the

Barricades” on BBC radio.8 During this broadcast Knox
implied that London was being attacked by Commu-
nists, Parliament was under siege, and the Savoy Hotel
and Big Ben had been blown up. Those who tuned in
late did not hear the disclaimer that the broadcast was
a spoof and not an actual news broadcast. This dra-
matic presentation, coming only a few months after
the General Strike in England, caused a minor panic
until the story could be explained.

This fake news report was famously followed by
Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938.
The War of the Worlds was published as a book in 1898,
but those who did not read science fiction were unfa-
miliar with the story. The presentation of the story as a
radio broadcast again caused a minor panic, this time
in the United States, as there were few clues to indi-
cate that reports of a Martian invasion were fictional.
While this broadcast was not meant to be fake news,
those who missed the introduction didn’t know that.9

On November 3, 1948, the Chicago Daily Tribune
editors were so certain of the outcome of the previ-
ous day’s presidential election that they published the
paper with a headline stating, “Dewey Defeats Tru-
man.” An iconic picture shows President Truman hold-
ing up the newspaper with the erroneous headline.
The caption for the picture quotes Truman as saying,
“That ain’t the way I heard it.”10 The paper, of course,
retracted the statement and reprinted the paper with
the correct news later in the day. This incident is one
reason that journalists at reputable news outlets are
required to verify information a number of times
before publication.

It is easy to see that fake news has existed for a
long time. From the few examples described above,
the effects of fake news have ranged widely, from
amusement to death. Some authors of fake news prob-
ably had benign motivations for producing it. Others
appear to have intended to harm individuals, families,
or governments. The intended and unintended con-
sequences of fake news of the pre-internet era were
profound and far-reaching for the time. As the means
of spreading fake news increased, the consequences
became increasingly serious.

Internet Era

In the late twentieth century, the internet provided
new means for disseminating fake news on a vastly
increased scale. When the internet was made pub-
licly available, it was possible for anyone who had a
computer to access it. At the same time, innovations
in computers made them affordable to the average
person. Making information available on the inter-
net became a new way to promote products as well
as make information available to everyone almost
instantly.

7

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Some fake websites were created in the early years
of generalized web use. Some of these hoax websites
were satire. Others were meant to mislead or deliber-
ately spread biased or fake news. Early library instruc-
tion classes used these types of website as cautionary
examples of what an internet user needed to look for.
Using a checklist of criteria to identify fake news web-
sites was relatively easy. A few hoax website favor-
ites are

• DHMO.org. This website claims that the com-
pound DHMO (Dihydrogen Monoxide), a compo-
nent of just about everything, has been linked to
terrible problems such as cancer, acid rain, and
global warming. While everything suggested on
the website is true, it is not until one’s high school
chemistry kicks in that the joke is revealed—
DHMO and H2O are the same thing.

• Feline Reactions to Bearded Men. Another popular
piece of fake news is a “research study” regarding
the reactions of cats to bearded men. This study is
reported as if it had been published in a scientific
journal. It includes a literature review, a descrip-
tion of the experiment, the raw data resulting
from the experiment, and the conclusions reached
by the researchers as a result. It is not until the
reader gets to the bibliography of the article that
the experiment is revealed to be a hoax. Included
in the bibliography are articles supposedly writ-
ten by Madonna Louise Ciccone (Madonna the
singer), A. Schwartzenegger (Arnold, perhaps?),
and Doctor Seuss and published in journals such
as the Western Musicology Journal, Tonsological
Proceedings, and the Journal of Feline Forensic
Studies.

• city-mankato.us. One of the first websites to make
use of website technology to mislead and mis-
direct was a fake site for the city of Mankato,
Minnesota. This website describes the climate
as temperate to tropical, claiming that a geologi-
cal anomaly allows the Mankato Valley to enjoy
a year-round temperature of no less than 70
degrees Fahrenheit, while providing snow year-
round at nearby Mount Kroto. It reported that one
could watch the summer migration of whales up
the Minnesota River. An insert shows a picture of
a beach, with a second insert showing the current
temperature—both tropical. The website proudly
announces that it is a Yahoo “Pick of the Week”
site and has been featured by the New York Times
and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Needless to say,
no geological anomaly of this type exists in Min-
nesota. Whales do not migrate up (or down) the
Minnesota River at any time, and the pictures of
the beaches and the thermometer are actually
showing beaches and temperatures from places
very far south of Mankato. It is true that Yahoo,

the New York Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tri-
bune featured this website, but not for the rea-
sons you might think. When fake news could still
be amusing, this website proved both clever and
ironic.

• MartinLutherKing.org. This website was created
by Stormfront, a white supremacist group, to try
to mislead readers about the Civil Rights activ-
ist by discrediting his work, his writing, and his
personal life.11 The fact that the website used the
.org domain extension convinced a number of
people that it was unbiased because the domain
extension was usually associated with nonprofit
organizations working for good. The authors of
the website did not reveal themselves nor did they
state their affiliations. Using Martin Luther King’s
name for the website insured that people looking
for information about King could easily arrive at
this fake news website. This website is no longer
active.

HOAX Websites

DHMO.org
www.dhmo.org

“Feline Reactions to Bearded Men”
www.improbable.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html

“Mankato, Minnesota”
http://city-mankato.us

“Martin Luther King, Jr.”
www.martinlutherking.org

Global Reach of Fake News

Initial forays into the world of fake news fall into the
category of entertainment, satire, and parody. They
are meant to amuse or to instruct the unwary. Canards
and other news that fall into the category of misinfor-
mation and misdirection, like the Martin Luther King
website, often have more sinister and serious motives.
In generations past, newspaper readers were warned
that just because something was printed in the news-
paper did not mean that it was true. In the twenty-first
century, the same could be said about the internet.
People of today create fake news for many of the same
reasons that people of the past did. A number of new
twists help to drive the creation and spread of fake
news that did not exist until recently.

Twenty-first-century economic incentives have
increased the motivation to supply the public with
fake news. The internet is now funded by advertisers

http://www.dhmo.org

http://www.improbable.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html

http://city-mankato.us/

http://www.martinlutherking.org

8

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

rather than by the government. Advertisers are in
business to get information about their products to as
many people as possible. Advertisers will pay a website
owner to allow their advertising to be shown, just as
they might pay a newspaper publisher to print adver-
tisements in the paper. How do advertisers decide in
which websites to place their ads? Using computing
power to collect the data, it is possible to count the
number of visits and visitors to individual sites. Popu-
lar websites attract large numbers of people who visit
those sites, making them attractive to advertisers. The
more people who are exposed to the products adver-
tisers want to sell, the more sales are possible. The fee
paid to the website owners by the advertisers rewards
website owners for publishing popular information
and provides an incentive to create more content that
will attract more people to the site.

People are attracted to gossip, rumor, scandal,
innuendo, and the unlikely. Access Hollywood on TV
and the National Enquirer at the newsstand have used
human nature to make their products popular. That
popularity attracts advertisers. In a Los Angeles Times
op-ed, Matthew A. Baum and David Lazer report
“Another thing we know is that shocking claims stick
in your memory. A long-standing body of research
shows that people are more likely to attend to and
later recall a sensational or negative headline, even if
a fact checker flags it as suspect.”12

In the past several years, people have created web-
sites that capitalize on those nonintellectual aspects
of human nature. Advertisers are interested in how
many people will potentially be exposed to their prod-
ucts, rather than the truth or falsity of the content
of the page on which the advertising appears. Unfor-
tunately, sites with sensational headlines or sugges-
tive content tend to be very popular, generating large
numbers of visits to those sites and creating an adver-
tising opportunity. Some advertisers will capitalize on
this human propensity for sensation by paying writ-
ers of popular content without regard for the actual
content at the site. The website can report anything it
likes, as long as it attracts a large number of people.
This is how fake news is monetized, providing incen-
tives for writers to concentrate on the sensational
rather than the truthful.

The problem with most sensational information
is that it is not always based on fact, or those facts
are twisted in some way to make the story seem like
something it is not. It is sometimes based on no infor-
mation at all. For example:

Creators of fake news found that they could cap-
ture so much interest that they could make money
off fake news through automated advertising that
rewards high traffic to their sites. A man running
a string of fake news sites from the Los Angeles
suburbs told NPR he made between $10,000 and
$30,000 a month. A computer science student in

the former Soviet republic of Georgia told the New
York Times that creating a new website and filling
it with both real stories and fake news that flat-
tered Trump was a “gold mine.”13

Technological advances have increased the spread
of information and democratized its consumption
globally. There are obvious benefits associated with
instantaneous access to information. The dissemina-
tion of information allows ideas to be shared and for-
merly inaccessible regions to be connected. It makes
choices available and provides a platform for many
points of view.

However, in a largely unregulated medium, sup-
ported and driven by advertising, the incentive for
good is often outweighed by the incentive to make
money, and this has a major impact on how the
medium develops over time. Proliferation of fake
news is one outcome. While the existence of fake news
is not new, the speed at which it travels and the global
reach of the technology that can spread it are unprec-
edented. Fake news exists in the same context as real
news on the internet. The problem seems to be distin-
guishing between what is fake and what is real.

Notes
1. Michela Del Vicario, Alessandro Bessi, Fabiana Zollo,

Fabio Petroni, Antonio Scala, Guido Caldarelli, H.
Eugene Stanley, and Walter Quattrociocchi, “The
Spreading of Misinformation Online,” Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences of the United States
of America 113, no. 3 (January 19, 2016): 534, https://
doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1517441113.

2. Procopius, Secret History, trans. Richard Atwater (New
York: Covici Friede; Chicago: P. Covici, 1927; repr. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), https://
sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/procop-anec.asp.

3. “Pietro Aretino,” Wikipedia, last updated August 7,
2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Aretino.

4. Robert Darnton, “The True History of Fake News,”
NYR Daily (blog), New York Review of Books, Febru-
ary 13, 2017, http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017
/02/13/the-true-history-of-fake-news/.

5. Jonathan Swift, “The Art of Political Lying,” Ex-
aminer, no. 14 (November 9, 1710), para. 9, repr. in
Richard Nordquist, “The Art of Political Lying, by
Jonathan Swift,” ThoughtCo., last updated March 20,
2016, https://www.thoughtco.com/art-of-political
-lying-by-swift-1690138.

6. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Balloon Hoax,” published
1844, reprinted in PoeStories.com, accessed
September 6, 2017, https://poestories.com/read
/balloonhoax.

7. Gilbert Arevalo, “The Six Hoaxes of Edgar Al-
lan Poe,” HubPages, last updated March 30, 2017,
https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Six-Hoaxes
-of-Edgar-Allan-Poe.

8. A. Brad Schwartz, “Broadcasting the Barricades,” A.
Brad Schwartz website, January 16, 2015, https://

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1517441113

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1517441113

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/procop-anec.asp

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/procop-anec.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Aretino

The True History of Fake News

The True History of Fake News

https://www.thoughtco.com/art-of-political-lying-by-swift-1690138

https://www.thoughtco.com/art-of-political-lying-by-swift-1690138

https://poestories.com/read/balloonhoax

https://poestories.com/read/balloonhoax

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Six-Hoaxes-of-Edgar-Allan-Poe

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Six-Hoaxes-of-Edgar-Allan-Poe

Broadcasting the Barricades

9

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

abradschwartz.com/2015/01/16/broadcasting
-the-barricades/.

9. “The War of the Worlds (radio drama),” Wikipedia,
last updated August 24, 2017, https://en.wikipedia
.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio_drama).

10. Tim Jones, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” Chicago Tri-
bune website, accessed September 6, 2017, www
.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics
/chi-chicagodays-deweydefeats-story-story.html.

11. Keith Thomson, “White Supremacist Site Martin-
LutherKing.org Marks 12th Anniversary,” The Blog,
HuffPost, last updated May 26, 2011, www.huffing
tonpost.com/entry/white-supremacist-site-ma_b
_809755.html.

12. Matthew A. Baum and David Lazer, “Google and
Facebook Aren’t Fighting Fake News with the Right
Weapons,” op-ed, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2017,
www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-baum
-lazer-how-to-fight-fake-news-20170508-story.html.

13. Angie Drobnic Holan, “2016 Lie of the Year: Fake
News,” PolitiFact, December 13, 2016, www.politi
fact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13
/2016-lie-year-fake-news/.

Broadcasting the Barricades
Broadcasting the Barricades

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio_drama)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio_drama)

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-deweydefeats-story-story.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-deweydefeats-story-story.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-deweydefeats-story-story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-thomson/white-supremacist-site-ma_b_809755.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-thomson/white-supremacist-site-ma_b_809755.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-thomson/white-supremacist-site-ma_b_809755.html

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-baum-lazer-how-to-fight-fake-news-20170508-story.html

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-baum-lazer-how-to-fight-fake-news-20170508-story.html

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13/2016-lie-year-fake-news/

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13/2016-lie-year-fake-news/

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13/2016-lie-year-fake-news/

10

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

How Fake News Spreads

Word of Mouth

News has always been disseminated by word of mouth.
Early humans lived in small groups, moving from place
to place as needs required. As the human population
grew, there was greater need for communication. Con-
tact between groups became more common, and the
connections between groups became more complex.1
News was still spread by word of mouth, but there was
more to tell. There were, of course, subsistence details
to convey, but there was also family news to share,
gossip to pass on, fashion trends to consider, and theo-
logical questions to answer. There were few means to
verify news that came from outside the local group.
If a traveler arrived from a distance and said that the
people in the next large town were wearing silk rather
than skins, there was no way to verify this informa-
tion without visiting the distant place in person.

Presumably as people came to view local resources
as belonging to the group, there might have been
incentive to mislead outsiders about the size of the
population protecting those resources or to understate
the quality or amount of resources. If a resource was
scarce or valuable, there might be reason to provide
misinformation. However, because news was oral,
there is no record. We can’t know exactly what was
said.

Written Word

Groups began to create tools that would allow them
to tell a story, keep track of numbers, give direc-
tions, and so on about the same time as populations
became sedentary and began to grow. In the Middle
East, farmers, landowners, politicians, and family

historians began to invent the means to keep track
of, remember, and convey information.2 Some groups
used pictures, some used counting devices, and even-
tually systems of writing were born. Written informa-
tion posed its own set of problems.

First, there is the problem of writing material.
Some people used stone for a writing surface.3 Mark-
ing stone takes a lot of time and effort. The result
is permanent, but it is hard to carry around. Some
groups used clay as a writing surface.4 This is a terrific
material to use if you want to make your information
permanent. Mark the clay, fire it, and the information
is available for a long period of time. The downside
of clay is that it is relatively heavy, it takes up a lot
of room, and it breaks easily. This makes it somewhat
difficult to transport. The Egyptians used papyrus
(labor intensive and expensive).5 Native Americans
used tree bark (delicate and easily damaged).6 Peo-
ple with herds of animals used animal skins to make
parchment and vellum (not always available when
required, lots of preparation needed).7 The Incas used
knotted cords called quipus that acted as mnemonic
devices as well as counting devices.8

Second, not everyone knew the secret of how to
interpret the writing between groups or even inside
a group. If knowledge is power, knowing how to read
allowed people to assume the reins of power and to
limit access to information, thus controlling what
people did or did not know. This control made people
dependent on those who knew the secret. As we saw
above, some people did not hesitate to offer fake news
to serve their own purposes to manipulate or influ-
ence those who could not read.

While the elite used systems of writing, the non-
literate members of the group would have continued
to use word-of-mouth transmission of information.

Chapter 2

11

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Information was conveyed from those in power by
proclamation. A representative of the leader would be
sent to read out a message to those who could not read
but who had a need to know. Again there was no guar-
antee that the information being read was written
truthfully, nor that it was read accurately to the non-
literate public. What people knew in the early stages
of literacy was controlled by the literate.

Different writing systems required translators to
convey information between groups. Here again, the
honesty and or accuracy of the translation had a large
effect on the exact information that people received.
The same is true today. We often see articles that
essentially “translate” information from highly tech-
nical and specialized fields into information most peo-
ple can understand. The translator’s motives can influ-
ence what is reported and what language is used to
report it. In the Wild West of the internet world, it’s
hard to know what a translator’s motives are without
spending an inordinate amount of time checking out
the author’s credentials.

Printed Media

As more people became literate, it became harder
to control information. More information appeared
in printed form. More kinds of information were
shared.9 Printed information was carried from place
to place, and as new and faster means of transpor-
tation became available, people got news faster and
more often. As means of spreading news widely and
quickly, without intervention or translation, became
more common, it was harder to control the messages
people saw and heard. Newspapers, magazines, tele-
graph, and eventually radio, television, and the inter-
net provided multiple avenues to transmit informa-
tion without necessarily getting permission from the
state or other power holder. As new media inventions
became viable, they were used to share the news and
other information, creating a wide range of options
for news seekers.

Internet

With the birth and spread of the internet, it was
thought that a truly democratic and honest means of
sharing information had arrived. Control of the con-
tent accessible via the internet is difficult (but not
impossible), making former information power hold-
ers less powerful. Anyone with access and a desire to
share their thoughts could use the internet to do so.
At first the technological requirements for creating
a web page were beyond most individuals, but com-
panies who saw a market built software that allowed
“non-programmers” to create a web page without any

knowledge of the computer code that was actually
responsible for transmitting the message.

Information can now come from anywhere and
at any time. Literally billions of actors can partici-
pate in the spread of information. The rate of flow
of information and the sheer volume of information
are overwhelming and exhausting. The democratiza-
tion in information allows everyone and anyone to
participate and includes information from bad actors,
biased viewpoints, ignorant or uninformed opinion—
all coming at internet users with the velocity of a fire
hose. The glut of information is akin to having no
information at all, as true information looks exactly
like untrue, biased, and satirical information.

Added to the overwhelming amount of informa-
tion available today is the impossibility for anyone to
know something about everything. The details about
how things work or what makes them function are
beyond most individuals. What makes a cellphone
work? What happens when you store something “in
the cloud”? How does a hybrid car engine know which
part of the engine to use when? What is the statis-
tical margin of error, and how does it affect polls?
Are vaccines harmful? Did the Holocaust really hap-
pen? Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states, “Any suffi-
ciently advanced technology is indistinguishable from
magic.”10 What this means in terms of fake news is that
people are vulnerable to being misinformed because,
in a world where all things seem possible, they have
little or no basis for separating truth from fiction. It’s
hard to find a trusted source, so all sources must be
trustworthy or all must be suspect.

When the internet was made available to the gen-
eral public in the 1990s, it was seen as a means of
democratizing access to information. The amount of
information that became available began as a trickle
and turned into a Niagara, fed by a roaring river of
new content. It became wearisome and then almost
impossible to find a single piece of information in
the torrent. Search engines were developed that used
both human and computer power to sort, categorize,
and contain much of the content on the internet. Even-
tually Google became the go-to means for both access
to and control of the flood of information available,
becoming so common that Google became a verb.

Computerization of information has a number of
benefits. Large amounts of information can be stored
in increasingly small spaces. Records of many kinds
have become public because they can be conveyed
electronically. With the advent of the internet, peo-
ple can benefit from the combination of computeriza-
tion and access, allowing information to be sent and
received when and where it is needed. New devices
have been invented to supply the fast and furious
appetite for information. New types of information
and new avenues for communication have become
commonplace in the last decade. More and newer

12

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

versions of devices and platforms appear with increas-
ing frequency. Originally this explosion of informa-
tion available to the public was viewed as the democ-
ratization of power for the benefit of everyone, but
this view didn’t last long.11

This utopian view of the benefits of the comput-
erization of information began to be overshadowed
almost immediately. The concept of free information
for the masses required that someone other than the
consumers of that information pay for it. To make pay-
ing for the internet attractive, data was needed. Auto-
matic software programs were developed to perform
repetitive tasks that gathered data. These programs
were known as bots—short for robots. What they col-
lected became a commodity. Data collected by bots
showed what sites were being used and what prod-
ucts were being purchased, by whom, and how often.
This information could be used to convince advertis-
ers to pay to place their advertisements on websites.
The data could also be offered for sale to prospective
clients to use for their own purposes. Through using
bots, it became possible to harvest a wide variety of
information that could be sold. Once bots were suc-
cessfully programmed to collect and send informa-
tion, that ability was expanded for uses far beyond
simple advertising.

Social Media

The advent of social media presented another oppor-
tunity for advertising to specific and targeted groups
of people. On social media sites such as Facebook and
Twitter, information is often personal. These platforms
are used to find like-minded people, to stay in touch
with family and friends, to report the news of the day,
and to create networks among people. These platforms
provide an easy way to share information and to make
connections. Social media networks provide a short-
hand method of communication using icons to indi-
cate approval and various emotions. This allows peo-
ple to respond to items posted on their pages without
actually having to write something themselves. If they
enjoy something, the push of a button allows that mes-
sage to be conveyed. It they wish to share the infor-
mation with friends and followers, a single click can
accomplish that task. It is possible for bots to be pro-
grammed to count those clicks and respond to them.

News outlets, advertisers, political parties, and
many others have created web pages that can be
directed to the accounts and networks of social media
users using programmed algorithms called bots. The
bots can be programmed to search for information
on the internet that is similar to what a social media
user has already clicked on, liked, or shared. They can
then inject that new information into what the user
sees.12 So, for example, rather than seeing stories from

hundreds of news outlets, a bot will find news outlets
that are similar to those already being viewed. Bots
provide users with easy access to information about
things they already like. By following links between
accounts, bots can push information to the friends of
a user as well. This means that friends begin to see
the same array of information. Eventually one user
and the friends and followers of that individual are
seeing only information they agree with. This cre-
ates an information bubble that makes it appear that
the likes of the group inside the bubble represent the
likes of the majority of people (because the group
inside the bubble never sees anything contrary to its
preferences).

In Imperva Incapsula’s 2015 annual report on
impersonator bot and bad bot traffic trends, Igal Zeif-
man states, “The extent of this threat is such that, on
any given day, over 90 percent of all security events on
our network are the result of bad bot activity.”13 Social
and political bots have been used for the purposes of
collecting and sharing information. In the last decade,
there has been a concerted effort to design bots and
bot practices that work to steer populations in general
toward a particular way of thinking; to prevent people
from organizing around a specific cause; and to mis-
direct, misinform, or propagandize about people and
issues.14 The bots work much faster than humans can
and work 24/7 to carry out their programming.

Humans assist bots in their work by liking and
sharing information the bots push at them, often with-
out reading the information they are sending along.
Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, studied “two billion
visits across the web over the course of a month and
found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a
stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on
a page. . . . We looked at 10,000 socially-shared arti-
cles and found that there is no relationship whatso-
ever between the amount a piece of content is shared
and the amount of attention an average reader will
give that content.”15 This means that once a message
has reached a critical number of people via bots, those
people will assist in the spread of that information
even though more than half of them will not have
read it. The manipulation of computer code for social
media sites allows fake news to proliferate and affects
what people believe, often without ever having been
read beyond the headline or caption.

Notes
1. “History of Communication,” Wikipedia, last updat-

ed August 28, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki
/History_of_communication.

2. Joshua J. Mark, “Writing,” Ancient History Encyclope-
dia, April 28, 2011, www.ancient.eu/writing/.

3. “Stone Carving,” Wikipedia, last updated August 30,
2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_carving.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_communication

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_communication

http://www.ancient.eu/writing/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_carving

13

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

4. “Clay Tablet,” Wikipedia, last updated August 25,
2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_tablet.

5. Joshua J. Mark, “Egyptian Papyrus,” Ancient History
Encyclopedia, November 8, 2016, www.ancient.eu
/Egyptian_Papyrus/.

6. “Uses for Birchbark,” NativeTech: Native American
Technology and Art, accessed September 6, 2017,
www.nativetech.org/brchbark/brchbark.htm.

7. “Differences between Parchment, Vellum and Paper,”
National Archives website, US National Archives and
Records Administration, accessed September 6, 2017,
https://www.archives.gov/preservation/formats
/paper-vellum.html.

8. Mark Cartwright, “Quipu,” Ancient History Encyclo-
pedia, May 8, 2014, www.ancient.eu/Quipu/.

9. Winstone Arradaza, “The Evolution of Print Media,”
Prezi presentation, November 11, 2013, https://prezi
.com/qpmlecfqibmh/the-evolution-of-print-media/;
“A Short History of Radio with an Inside Focus on
Mobile Radio,” Federal Communications Commis-
sion, Winter 2003–2004, https://transition.fcc.gov
/omd/history/radio/documents/short_history.pdf;
“Morse Code and the Telegraph,” History.com, ac-
cessed September 6, 2017, www.history.com/topics
/inventions/telegraph; Andrew Anthony, “A His-
tory of the Television, the Technology That Seduced
the World—and Me,” Guardian, September 7, 2013,
https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013
/sep/07/history-television-seduced-the-world.

10. Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry
into the Limits of the Possible (London: V. Gollancz,
1973), 39.

11. Peter Ferdinand, “The Internet, Democracy and
Democratization,” Democratization 7, no. 1 (2000):
1–17, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510340008403642.

12. Tarleton Gillespie, “The Relevance of Algorithms,” in
Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materi-
ality and Society, ed. Tarleson Gillespie, Pablo J. Boc-
zkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 2014), 167–94; Alessandro Bessi and Emilio
Ferrara, “Social Bots Distort the 2016 U.S. Presiden-
tial Election Online Discussion,” First Monday 21, no.
11 (November 7, 2016), http://journals.uic.edu/ojs
/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653; Tim

Hwang, Ian Pearce, and Max Nanis, “Socialbots:
Voices from the Fronts,” Interactions, March/April
2012: 38–45; Emilio Ferrara, Onur Varol, Clayton
Davis, Filippo Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini,
“The Rise of Social Bots,” Communications of the
ACM 59, no. 7 (July 2016): 96–104.

13. Igal Zeifman, “2015 Bot Traffic Report: Humans Take
Back the Web, Bad Bots Not Giving Any Ground,”
Imperva Incapsula Blog, December 9, 2015, https://
www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2015
.html.

14. Samuel C. Woolley, “Automating Power: Social Bot
Interference in Global Politics,” First Monday 21, no.
4 (April 4, 2016), http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index
.php/fm/article/view/6161/5300; Peter Pomerantsev
and Michael Weiss, The Menace of Unreality: How the
Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money
(Institute of Modern Russia and The Interpreter,
2014), www.interpretermag.com/wp-content
/uploads/2015/07/PW-31.pdf; Bence Kollanyi, Philip
N. Howard, and Samuel C. Wooley, Bots and Automa-
tion over Twitter during the U.S. Election, Data Memo
2016.4 (Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Pro-
paganda, November 2016), http://comprop.oii.ox.ac
.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2016/11/Data-Me-
mo-US-Election.pdf; Paul Roderick Gregory, “Inside
Putin’s Campaign of Social Media Trolling and Fake
Ukrainian Crimes,” Forbes, May 11, 2014, https://
www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2014/05
/11/inside-putins-campaign-of-social-media-trolling
-and-faked-ukrainian-crimes/; Brian T. Gaines, James
H. Kuklinski, Paul J. Quirk, Buddy Peyton, and Jay
Verkuilen, “Same Facts, Different Interpretations:
Partisan Motivation and Opinion on Iraq,” Journal of
Politics 69 no. 4 (November 2007): 957–74; Sara El-
Khalili, “Social Media as a Government Propaganda
Tool in Post-revolutionary Egypt,” First Monday 18,
no. 3 (March 4, 2013), http://firstmonday.org/ojs/
index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423.

15. Tony Haile, “What You Think You Know about the
Web Is Wrong,” Time.com, March 9, 2014, http://
time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know
-about-the-web-is-wrong/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_tablet

http://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Papyrus/

http://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Papyrus/

http://www.nativetech.org/brchbark/brchbark.htm

https://www.archives.gov/preservation/formats/paper-vellum.html

https://www.archives.gov/preservation/formats/paper-vellum.html

http://www.ancient.eu/Quipu/

https://prezi.com/qpmlecfqibmh/the-evolution-of-print-media/

https://prezi.com/qpmlecfqibmh/the-evolution-of-print-media/

https://transition.fcc.gov/omd/history/radio/documents/short_history.pdf

https://transition.fcc.gov/omd/history/radio/documents/short_history.pdf

http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/telegraph

http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/telegraph

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/sep/07/history-television-seduced-the-world

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/sep/07/history-television-seduced-the-world

https://doi.org/10.1080/13510340008403642

http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653

http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2015.html

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2015.html

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2015.html

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6161/5300

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6161/5300

http://www.interpretermag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/PW-31.pdf

http://www.interpretermag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/PW-31.pdf

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2016/11/Data-Memo-US-Election.pdf

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2016/11/Data-Memo-US-Election.pdf

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2016/11/Data-Memo-US-Election.pdf

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

14

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Can Technology Save Us?

Technology of Fake News

Fake news sites target the filter bubbles of groups most
aligned with that news. They use the power of social
media to do so. Initially fake news of the social media
era was relatively easy to spot. The claims of early
social media fake news purveyors were often meant as
entertainment. Language, fonts, and links were often
indicators that could be used to determine veracity. It
took only a short time for fake news to become more
insidious, more plentiful, more subtle, and subverted
for manipulation of information and public opinion.
Fake news has many new social media outlets where
it can appear and can spread quickly via both human
and nonhuman actors. During the 2016 presidential
election cycle for example, fake news appeared often.1
Determining what news was to be believed and what
news was to be ignored became more a case of party
affiliation than good sense.

Fake news sites and stories are shared for many dif-
ferent reasons. Some readers find the stories amusing.
Some find them alarming. Others find them affirming
of their beliefs. Many people share fake news without
ever having read the content of the article.2 Sharing of
fake news, whether because it is amusing or because
people think it is real, only exaggerates the problem.
Did Pope Francis endorse candidate Donald Trump?
No, but that didn’t stop the story from appearing on
social media and spreading widely.3 Did Hillary Clin-
ton run a child sex ring out of a Washington, DC, pizza
shop? No, but that didn’t stop a man with a gun from
going there to exact vengeance.4

In the early days of the internet, fake news was
not a big problem. There were some websites that
sought to spoof, mislead, or hoax, but mostly it
was all in good fun. While some websites sought to

spread misinformation, their numbers were limited.
It seemed as if the authority to shut down malicious
websites was invoked more often. Creating a website
on the early internet took time, effort, and computer
programming skills that limited the number of people
who could create fake news sites.

During the last decade, as an offshoot of the
stream of information provided by the internet, social
media platforms, such as Facebook and MySpace,
were invented so that individuals could connect with
others on the internet to point them to websites, share
comments, describe events, and so on.

Following that came the invention of another
type of social media—Twitter—which allows people
to send very brief messages, usually about current
events, to others who choose to receive those mes-
sages. One could choose to “follow” former President
Barak Obama’s Twitter postings—to know where he
is going, what is on his agenda, or what is happen-
ing at an event. This kind of information can be very
useful for getting on-site information as it happens.
It has proved useful in emergency situations as well.
For example, during the Arab Spring uprisings, Twit-
ter communications provided information in real time
as events unfolded.5 During Hurricane Sandy, people
were able to get localized and specific information
about the storm as it happened.6 Twitter is also a con-
venient means of socializing, for getting directions,
and for keeping up-to-date on the activities of friends
and family.

The power of the various tools that use the power
of the internet and the information supplied there is
epic. The spread of the technology required to make
use of these tools has been rapid and global. As with
most tools, the power of the internet can be used for
both good and evil. In the last decade, the use of the

Chapter 3

15

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

internet to manipulate, manage, and mislead has had
a massive upswing.

Big Data

The collection of massive amounts of data using bots
has generated a new field of study known as “big
data.”7 Some big data research applies to the activities
of people who use the internet and social media. By
gathering and analyzing large amounts of data about
how people use the internet, how they use social
media, what items they like and share, and how many
people overall click on a link, advertisers, web devel-
opers, and schemers can identify what appear to be
big trends. Researchers are concerned that big data
can hide biases that are not necessarily evident in
the data collected, and the trends identified may or
may not be accurate.8 The use of big data about social
media and internet use can result in faulty assump-
tions and create false impressions about what groups
or people do or do not like. Manipulators of big data
can “nudge” people to influence their actions based
on the big data they have collected.9 They can use the
data collected to create bots designed to influence
populations.10

Bots

Information-collecting capabilities made possible by
harnessing computer power to collect and analyze
massive amounts of data are used by institutions,
advertisers, pollsters, and politicians. Bots that col-
lect the information are essentially pieces of computer
code that can be used to automatically respond when
given the right stimulus. For example, a bot can be
programmed to search the internet to find particular
words or groups of words. When the bot finds the word
or words it is looking for, its programming makes note
of the location of those words and does something
with them. Using bots speeds up the process of finding
and collecting sites that have the required informa-
tion. The use of bots to collect data and to send data
to specific places allows research to progress in many
fields. They automate tedious and time-consuming
processes, freeing researchers to work on other tasks.

Automated programming does good things for
technology. There are four main jobs that bots do:
“Good” bots crawl the web and find website content
to send to mobile and web applications and display to
users. They search for information that allows rank-
ing decisions to be made by search engines. Where
use of data has been authorized, the data is collected
by bot “crawlers” to supply information to marketers.
Monitoring bots can follow website availability and
monitor the proper functioning of online features.

This kind of data collection is useful to those who
want to know how many people have looked at the
information they have provided. “In 1994, a former
direct mail marketer called Ken McCarthy came up
with the clickthrough as the measure of ad perfor-
mance on the web. The click’s natural dominance
built huge companies like Google and promised a
whole new world for advertising where ads could be
directly tied to consumer action.”11 Counting clicks
is a relatively easy way to assess how many people
have visited a website. However, counting clicks has
become one of the features of social media that deter-
mines how popular or important a topic is. Featur-
ing and repeating those topics based solely on click
counts is one reason that bots are able to manipulate
what is perceived as popular or important. Bots can
disseminate information to large numbers of people.
Human interaction with any piece of information is
usually very brief before a person passes that infor-
mation along to others. The number of shares results
in large numbers of clicks, which pushes the bot-sup-
plied information into the “trending” category even if
the information is untrue or inaccurate. Information
that is trending is considered important.

Good bots coexist in the technical world with “bad”
bots. Bad bots are not used for benign purposes, but
rather to spam, to mine users’ data, or to manipulate
public opinion. This process makes it possible for bots
to harm, misinform, and extort. The Imperva Incapsula
“2016 Bot Traffic Report” states that approximately
30 percent of traffic on the internet is from bad bots.
Further, out of the 100,000 domains that were studied
for the report, 94.2 percent experienced at least one
bot attack over the ninety-day period of the study.12
Why are bad bots designed, programmed, and set in
motion? “There exist entities with both strong motiva-
tion and technical means to abuse online social net-
works—from individuals aiming to artificially boost
their popularity, to organizations with an agenda to
influence public opinion. It is not difficult to automati-
cally target particular user groups and promote spe-
cific content or views. Reliance on social media may
therefore make us vulnerable to manipulation.”13

In social media, bots are used to collect informa-
tion that might be of interest to a user. The bot crawls
the internet for information that is similar to what
an individual has seen before. That information can
then be disseminated to the user who might be inter-
ested. By using keywords and hashtags, a website can
attract bots searching for specific information. Unfor-
tunately, the bot is not interested in the truth or false-
hood of the information itself.

Some social bots are computer algorithms that
“automatically produce content and interact with
humans on social media, trying to emulate and pos-
sibly alter their behavior. Social bots can use spam
malware, misinformation slander or even just noise”

16

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

to influence and annoy.14 Political bots are social bots
with political motivations. They have been used to
artificially inflate support for a candidate by send-
ing out information that promotes a particular candi-
date or disparages the candidate of the opposite party.
They have been used to spread conspiracy theories,
propaganda, and false information. Astroturfing is a
practice where bots create the impression of a grass-
roots movement supporting or opposing something
where none exists. Smoke screening is created when
a bot or botnet sends irrelevant links to a specific
hashtag so that followers are inundated with irrele-
vant information.

When disguised as people, bots propagate nega-
tive messages that may seem to come from friends,
family or people in your crypto-clan. Bots distort
issues or push negative images of political candi-
dates in order to influence public opinion. They go
beyond the ethical boundaries of political polling
by bombarding voters with distorted or even false
statements in an effort to manufacture negative
attitudes. By definition, political actors do advo-
cacy and canvassing of some kind or other. But
this should not be misrepresented to the public as
engagement and conversation. Bots are this cen-
tury’s version of push polling, and may be even
worse for society.15

Social bots have become increasingly sophisti-
cated, such that it is difficult to distinguish a bot from
a human. In 2014, Twitter revealed in a SEC filing that
approximately 8.5 percent of all its users were bots,
and that number may have increased to as much as
15 percent in 2017.16 Humans who don’t know that the
entity sending them information is a bot may easily be
supplied with false information.

Experiments in Fake News Detection

Researchers have studied how well humans can detect
lies. Bond and DePaulo analyzed the results of more
than 200 lie detection experiments and found that
humans can detect lies in text only slightly better than
by random chance.17 This means that if a bot supplies
a social media user with false information, that per-
son has just a little better than a 50 percent chance
of identifying the information as false. In addition,
because some bots have presented themselves and
been accepted by humans as “friends,” they become
trusted sources, making the detection of a lie even
more difficult.

To improve the odds of identifying false informa-
tion, computer experts have been working on multi-
ple approaches to the computerized automatic recog-
nition of true and false information.18

Written Text

Written text presents a unique set of problems for the
detection of lies. While structured text like insurance
claim forms use limited and mostly known language,
unstructured text like that found on the web has an
almost unlimited language domain that can be used
in a wide variety of contexts. This presents a chal-
lenge when looking for ways to automate lie detection.
Two approaches have been used recently to identify
fake news in unstructured text. Linguistic approaches
look at the word patterns and word choices, and net-
work approaches look at network information, such as
the location from which the message was sent, speed
of response, and so on.19

Linguistic Approaches to the Identification of
Fake News

The following four linguistic approaches are being
tested by researchers:

In the Bag of Words approach, each word in a sen-
tence or paragraph or article is considered as a sepa-
rate unit with equal importance when compared to
every other word. Frequencies of individual words
and identified multiword phrases are counted and
analyzed. Part of speech, location-based words, and
counts of the use of pronouns, conjunctions, and neg-
ative emotion words are all considered. The analysis
can reveal patterns of word use. Certain patterns can
reliably indicate that information is untrue. For exam-
ple, deceptive writers tend to use verbs and personal
pronouns more often, and truthful writers tend to use
more nouns, adjectives, and prepositions.20

In the Deep Syntax approach, language structure
is analyzed by using a set of rules to rewrite sentences
to describe syntax structures. For example, noun and
verb phrases are identified in the rewritten sentences.
The number of identified syntactic structures of each
kind compared to known syntax patterns for lies can
lead to a probability rating for veracity.21

In the Semantic Analysis approach, actual experi-
ence of something is compared with something writ-
ten about the same topic. Comparing written text
from a number of authors about an event or experi-
ence and creating a compatibility score from the com-
parison can show anomalies that indicate falsehood. If
one writer says the room was painted blue while three
others say it was painted green, there is a chance that
the first writer is providing false information.22

In Rhetorical Structure (RST), the analytic frame-
work identifies relationships between linguistic ele-
ments of text. Those comparisons can be plotted on
a graph, Vector Space Modeling (VSM) showing how
close to the truth they fall.23

17

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Networks

In approaches that use network information, human
classifiers identify instances of words or phrases that
are indicators of deception. Known instances of words
used to deceive are compiled to create a database.
Databases of known facts are also created from vari-
ous trusted sources.24 Examples from a constructed
database of deceptive words or verified facts can be
compared to new writing. Emotion-laden content can
also be measured, helping to separate feeling from
facts. By linking these databases, existing knowledge
networks can be compared to information offered in
new text. Disagreements between established knowl-
edge and new writing can point to deception.25

Social Network Behavior using multiple reference
points can help social media platform owners to iden-
tify fake news.26 Author authentication can be veri-
fied from internet metadata.27 Location coordination
for messages can be used to indicate personal knowl-
edge of an event. Inclusion or exclusion of hyper-
links is also demonstrative of trustworthy or untrust-
worthy sources. (For example, TweetCred, available
as a browser plugin, is software that assigns a score
for credibility to tweets in real time, based on char-
acteristics of a tweet such as content, characteristics
of the author, and external URLs.28) The presence or
absence of images, the total number of images by mul-
tiple sources, and their relationships and relevance
to the text of a message can also be compared with
known norms and are an indicator of the truth of the
message. Ironically, all of this information can be col-
lected by bots.

Experiments in Bot and
Botnet Detection

A variety of experiments have been conducted using
multiple processes to create a score for information
credibility.29 Research groups are prepared to supply
researchers with data harvested from social media
sites. Indiana University has launched a project called
Truthy.30 As part of that project, researchers have
developed an “Observatory of Social Media.” They
have captured data about millions of Twitter messages
and make that information available along with their
analytical tools for those who wish to do research.
Their system compares Twitter accounts with doz-
ens of known characteristics of bots collected in the
Truthy database to help identify bots.

Truthy
http://truthy.indiana.edu/about/

DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, is a part of the US Department of Defense. It
is responsible for the development of emerging tech-
nologies that can be used by the US military. In early
2015, DARPA sponsored a competition whose goal was
to identify bots known as influence bots. These bots
are “realistic, automated identities that illicitly shape
discussions on social media sites like Twitter and Face-
book, posing a risk to freedom of expression.”31 If a
means of identifying these bots could be discovered,
it would be possible to disable them. The outcome of
the challenge was that a semi-automated process that
combines inconsistency detection and behavioral mod-
eling, text analysis, network analysis, and machine
learning would be the most effective means of identify-
ing influence bots. Human judgment added to the com-
puter processes provided the best results.

Many other experiments in the identification of
bots have been reported in the computer science liter-
ature.32 Bots and botnets often have a specific task to
complete. Once that task is completed, their accounts
are eliminated. Detecting bots and botnets before they
can do harm is critical to shutting them down. Unfortu-
nately, the means for detecting and shutting down bots
are in their infancy. There are too many bot-driven
accounts and too few means for eliminating them.

What happens to the information that bots collect
is one part of the story of fake news. During the 2016
US presidential campaign, the internet was used to
advertise for political candidates. Official campaign
information was created by members of each politi-
cian’s election team. News media reported about can-
didates’ appearances, rallies, and debates, creating
more information. Individuals who attended events
used social media to share information with their
friends and followers. Some reports were factual and
without bias. However, because political campaigns
involve many people who prefer one candidate over
another, some information presented a bias in favor
of one candidate or not favoring another candidate.

Because it is possible for anyone to launch a web-
site and publish a story, some information about the
political candidates was not created by any official of
the campaign. In fact, many stories appeared about
candidates that were biased, taken out of context, or
outright false. Some stories were meant as spoof or
satire; others were meant to mislead and misinform.
One story reported that the pope had endorsed pres-
idential candidate Donald Trump. In any other con-
text, the reader would likely have no trouble realizing
that this story was not true.

Enter the bots. There have been some alarming
changes in how, where, and for what bots are used in
the past ten years. Bots are being programmed to col-
lect information from social media accounts and push
information to those accounts that meet certain criteria.

http://truthy.indiana.edu/about/

18

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Social networks allow “atoms” of propaganda to
be directly targeted at users who are more likely to
accept and share a particular message. Once they
inadvertently share a misleading or fabricated
article, image video or meme, the next person
who sees it in their social feed probably trusts the
original poster, and goes on to share it themselves.
These “atoms” then rocket through the informa-
tion ecosystem at high speed powered by trusted
peer-to-peer networks.33

Political bots have been central to the spread of
political disinformation. According to Woolley and
Guilbeault, the political bots used in the 2016 US elec-
tions were primarily used to create manufactured
consensus:

Social media bots manufacture consensus by
artificially amplifying traffic around a political
candidate or issue. Armies of bots built to fol-
low, retweet, or like a candidate’s content make
that candidate seem more legitimate, more widely
supported, than they actually are. Since bots are
indistinguishable from real people to the average
Twitter or Facebook user, any number of bots can
be counted as supporters of candidates or ideas.
This theoretically has the effect of galvanizing
political support where this might not previously
have happened. To put it simply: the illusion of
online support for a candidate can spur actual sup-
port through a bandwagon effect.34

The Computational Propaganda Research project
has studied the use of political bots in nine countries
around the world. In Woolley and Guilbeault’s report
on the United States, the authors state, “Bots infil-
trated the core of the political discussion over Twit-
ter, where they were capable of disseminating pro-
paganda at mass-scale. Bots also reached positions
of high betweenness centrality, where they played a
powerful role in determining the flow of information
among users.35

Social bots can affect the social identity people
create for themselves online. Bots can persuade and
influence to mold human identity.36 Guilbeault argues
that online platforms are the best place to make
changes that can help users form and maintain their
online identity without input from nonhuman actors.
To do that, researchers must identify and modify fea-
tures that weaken user security. He identifies four
areas where bots infiltrate social media:

1. Users create profiles to identify themselves on a
social media platform. It is easy for bots to be pro-
grammed to provide false information to create a
profile. In addition, the accessibility of the infor-
mation in the profiles of other social media users is
relatively easy to use to target specific populations.

2. In person, humans rely of a wide range of signals to
help determine whether or not they want to trust

someone. Online users have more limited options,
making it much easier for bots to pretend to be
real people. For platforms like Twitter, it is signifi-
cantly easier to imitate a human because the text
length is short and misspellings, bad grammar,
and poor syntax are not unusual. Guilbeault indi-
cates that popularity scores are problematic. He
suggests, for example, “making popularity scores
optional, private, or even nonexistent may signifi-
cantly strengthen user resistance to bot attacks.”37

3. People pay attention to their popularity in social
media. A large number of friends or followers is
often considered to be a mark of popularity. That
can lead to indiscriminate acceptance of friend
requests from unknown individuals, providing a
place for social bots to gain a foothold. Bots send
out friend requests to large numbers of people,
collect a large following, and, as a result, become
influential and credible in their friend group.

4. The use of tools such as emoticons and like but-
tons help to boost the influence of any posting.
Bots can use the collection of likes and emoticons
to spread to other groups of users. This process
can eventually influence topics that are trending
on Twitter, creating a false impression of what top-
ics people are most interested at a given time. This
can, of course, deflect interest in other topics.38

While Guilbeault has identified practices on social
media platforms where improvements or changes
could be made to better protect users, those changes
have yet to be made. A groundswell of opinion is
needed to get the attention of social media platform
makers. The will to remove or change a popular fea-
ture such as popularity rating doesn’t seem likely in
the near future. In fact, while research is being done
in earnest to combat the automated spread of fake or
malicious news, it is mostly experimental in nature.39
Possible solutions are being tested, but most automatic
fake news identification software is in its infancy. The
results are promising in some cases, but wide applica-
tion over social media platforms is nowhere in sight.
The research that exists is mostly based on identify-
ing and eliminating accounts that can be shown to
be bots. However, by the time that has been accom-
plished, whatever the bot has been programmed to
do has already been done. There are very few means
to automatically identify bots and botnets and disable
them before they complete a malicious task.

Google and Facebook Anti–Fake
News Efforts

The social media platforms and search engines them-
selves have made some efforts to help detect and flag
fake news. Facebook created an “immune system” to

19

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

help protect itself from infection by bots.40 Google
announced that it will increase its regulation of adver-
tising and linked-to websites.41 Facebook has turned
over the verification of information to five lead-
ing fact-checking organizations.42 Facebook has also
initiated a feature in parts of Europe called Related
Articles, which provides readers with access to the
results of fact-checking of original stories.43 Google
Digital News Initiative is creating programs to help
users verify information themselves with Factmata.
Overall, these attempts are reactive at best. The sheer
volume of potential misinformation and the difficulty
in identifying and shutting down bot accounts make
these attempts seem feeble.

Factmata

Home

It seems that the battle of the computer program-
mers will continue indefinitely. When one side devel-
ops a new means of manipulating information to mis-
lead, misinform, or unduly influence people, the other
side finds a way to counter or at least slow the ability
to make use of the new idea. This cycle continues in
a seemingly endless loop. Using technology to iden-
tify and stop fake news is a defensive game. There
does not appear to be a proactive means of eliminat-
ing fake news at this time. Money, power, and politi-
cal influence motivate different groups to create com-
puter-driven means of human control.

Notes
1. Andrew Zaleski, “How Bots, Twitter, and Hackers

Pushed Trump to the Finish Line,” Backchannel,
Wired, November 10, 2016, https://www.wired
.com/2016/11/how-bots-twitter-and-hackers
-pushed-trump-to-the-finish-line/; Alessandro Bessi
and Emilio Ferrara, “Social Bots Distort the 2016
U.S. Presidential Election Online Discussion,” First
Monday 21, no. 11 (November 7, 2016), http://
journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printer
Friendly/7090/5653.

2. Tony Haile, “What You Think You Know about the
Web Is Wrong,” Time.com, March 9, 2014, http://
time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know
-about-the-web-is-wrong/.

3. Don Evon, “Nope Francis,” Snopes, July 24, 2016,
www.snopes.com/pope-francis-donald-trump
-endorsement/.

4. Marc Fisher, John Woodrow Cox, and Peter Her-
mann, “Pizzagate: From Rumor, to Hashtag, to Gun-
fire in D.C.,” Washington Post, December 6, 2016,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizza
gate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc
/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d32
4840106c_story.html.

5. D. Parvaz, “The Arab Spring, Chronicled Tweet by
Tweet,” Al Jazeera English, November 6, 2011, www
.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/11/2011
113123416203161.html; Sara El-Khalili, “Social
Media as a Government Propaganda Tool in Post-
revolutionary Egypt,” First Monday 18, no. 3 (March
4, 2013), http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm
/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423.

6. “Twitter Served as a Lifeline of Information During
Hurricane Sandy,” Pew Research Center, FactTank,
October 28, 2013, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank
/2013/10/28/twitter-served-as-a-lifeline-of-infor
mation-during-hurricane-sandy/.

7. David Turner, Michael Schroeck, and Rebecca Shock-
ley, Analytics: The Real-World Use of Big Data in Fi-
nancial Services, executive report (Somers, NY: IBM
Global Services, 2013).

8. Kate Crawford, “The Hidden Biases in Big Data,”
Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2013, https://hbr
.org/2013/04/the-hidden-biases-in-big-data.

9. Dirk Helbing, Bruno S. Frey, Gerd Gigerenzer, Ernst
Hafen, Michael Hagner, Yvonne Hofstetter, Jeroen
van den Hoven, Roberto V. Zicari, and Andrej Zwit-
ter, “Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial
Intelligence?” Scientific American, February 25, 2017,
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will
-democracy-survive-big-data-and-artificial-intelli
gence/; previously published in Scientific American’s
sister publication Spektrum der Wissenschaft as “Digi-
tale Demokratie statt Datendiktatur.”

10. Steven J. Frenda, Rebecca M. Nichols, and Elizabeth
F. Loftus, “Current Issues and Advances in Misinfor-
mation Research,” Current Directions in Psychological
Science 20, no. 1 (2011): 20–23.

11. Haile, “What You Think You Know.”
12. Igal Zelfman, “Bot Traffic Report 2016,” Imperva

Incapsula Blog, January 24, 2017, https://www.incap
sula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html.

13. Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Clayton A. Davis, Filippo
Menczer, and Alessandro Falmmini, “Online Human-
Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation and Charac-
terization,” in Proceedings of the Eleventh Internation-
al AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM
2017) (Palo Alto, CA: AAAI Press, 2017), 280.

14. Emilio Ferrara, Onur Varol, Clayton Davis, Filippo
Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini, “The Rise of So-
cial Bots,” Communications of the ACM 59, no. 7 (July
2016): 96.

15. Philip N. Howard, Pax Technica: How the Internet of
Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (New Haven,
CT: Yale, 2015), 211.

16. Twitter, Inc., Form 10-Q, Report for the Quarterly
Period Ended June 30, 2014, US Securities and Ex-
change Commission file number 001-36164, www
.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000156459
014003474/twtr-10q_20140630.htm; Varol et al.,
“Online Human-Bot Interactions.

17. Charles F. Bond and Bella M. DePaulo, “Accuracy of
Deception Judgments,” Personality and Social Psy-
chology Review 10, no. 3 (2006): 214–34.

18. Niall J. Conroy, Victoria L. Rubin, and Yimin Chen,
“Automatic Deception Detection: Methods for
Finding Fake News,” Proceedings of the Association
for Information Science and Technology 52, no. 1

Home

https://www.wired.com/2016/11/how-bots-twitter-and-hackers-pushed-trump-to-the-finish-line/

https://www.wired.com/2016/11/how-bots-twitter-and-hackers-pushed-trump-to-the-finish-line/

https://www.wired.com/2016/11/how-bots-twitter-and-hackers-pushed-trump-to-the-finish-line/

http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653

http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653

http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/7090/5653

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://www.snopes.com/pope-francis-donald-trump-endorsement/

http://www.snopes.com/pope-francis-donald-trump-endorsement/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizzagate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizzagate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizzagate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizzagate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/11/2011113123416203161.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/11/2011113123416203161.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/11/2011113123416203161.html

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/rt/printerFriendly/4620/3423

Twitter served as a lifeline of information during Hurricane Sandy

Twitter served as a lifeline of information during Hurricane Sandy

Twitter served as a lifeline of information during Hurricane Sandy

https://hbr.org/2013/04/the-hidden-biases-in-big-data

https://hbr.org/2013/04/the-hidden-biases-in-big-data

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-democracy-survive-big-data-and-artificial-intelligence/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-democracy-survive-big-data-and-artificial-intelligence/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-democracy-survive-big-data-and-artificial-intelligence/

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html

http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000156459014003474/twtr-10q_20140630.htm

http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000156459014003474/twtr-10q_20140630.htm

http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000156459014003474/twtr-10q_20140630.htm

20

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

(2015), https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2015
.145052010082.

19. Jeffrey Hancock, Michael T. Woodworth, and Ste-
phen Porter, “Hungry like the Wolf: A Word-Pattern
Analysis of the Languages of Psychopaths,” Legal and
Criminological Psychology 18 (2013): 102–14; David
M. Markowitz and Jeffrey T. Hancock, “Linguistic
Traces of a Scientific Fraud: The Case of Diederick
Stapel,” PLOS ONE 9, no. 8 (2014), https://doi.org
/10.1371/journal.pone.0105937; Rada Mihalcea and
Carlo Strapparava, “The Lie Detector: Explorations in
the Automatic Recognition of Deceptive Language”
(short paper, Joint Conference of the 47th Annual
Meeting of the Association for Computational Lin-
guistics and 4th International Joint Conference on
Natural Language Processing of the Asian Federation
of Natural Language Processing, Singapore, August
2–7, 2009).

20. Momchil Hardalov, Ivan Koychev, and Preslav Na-
kov, “In Search of Credible News,” in Artificial Intel-
ligence: Methodology, Systems, and Applications: 17th
International Conference, AIMSA 2016, Varna, Bulgar-
ia, September 7–10, 2016, Proceedings, ed. C. Dichev
and G. Agre (London: Springer, 2016), 172–80; Mar-
kowitz and Hancock, “Linguistic Traces,” E105937;
Milhalcea and Strapparava, “The Lie Detector.”

21. Song Feng, Ritwik Banerjee, and Yejin Choi, “Syntac-
tic Stylometry for Deception Detection,” in Proceed-
ings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the Association for
Computational Linguistics (New York: Association for
Computational Linguistics, 2012), 171–75, www.acl
web.org/anthology/P12-2034.

22. Victoria L. Rubin and Tatiana Lukoianova, “Truth
and Deception at the Rhetorical Structure Level,”
Journal of the Association for Information Science and
Technology 66, no. 5 (2015): 905–17.

23. Jacob Ratkiewicz, Michael Conover, Mark Meis,
Bruno Goncalves, Snehal Patil, Alessandro Flammini
and Filippo Mercer, “Truthy: Mapping the Spread
of Astroturf in Microblog Streams,” In WWW ’11:
Proceedings of the 20th International Conference Com-
panion on World Wide Web (New York: Association
of Computational Linguistics, 2011), 249–52, http://
doi.org/10.1145/1963192.1963301; Zhiwei Jin, Juan
Cao, Yongdong Zhang, Hianshe Zhou, and Qi Tian,
“Novel Visual and Statistical Image Features for
Microblogs News Verification,” IEEE Transactions on
Multimedia 19, no. 3 (March 2017): 598–608.

24. Victorial L. Rubin, Yimin Chen, and Niall J. Con-
roy, “Deception Detection for News: Three Types
of Fakes,” in ASIST 2015: Proceedings of the 78th
ASIS&T Annual Meeting, ed. Andrew Grove (Silver
Spring, MD: Association for Information Science
and Technology, 2015); Myle Ott, Claire Cardie, and
Jeffrey T. Hancock, “Negative Deceptive Opinion
Spam,” in The 2013 Conference of the North American
Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguis-
tics: Human Language Technologies: Proceedings of
the Main Conference (Stroudsburg, PA: Association
of Computational Linguistics, 2013), 497–501; Xin
Luna Dong, Evgeniy Gabrilovich, Kevin Murphy, Van
Dang, Wilko Horn, Camillo Lugaresi, Shaohua Sun,
and Wei Zhang, “Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating
the Trustworthiness of Web Sources,” Proceedings of

the VLDB Endowment, arXiv:1502.03519v1 [cs.DB]
February 12, 2015.

25. Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Prashant Shiralkar, Luis
M. Rocha, Johan Bollen, Fillippo Menczer, and Ales-
sandro Flammini, “Computational Fact Checking
from Knowledge Networks,” PLOS ONE
10, no. 6 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal
.pone.0128193.

26. Hamdi Yahuaoui Al-Mutairi and Hazem Raafat,
“Lattice-Based Ranking for Service Trust Behaviors,”
Knowledge Based Systems 102 (2016): 20–38; Carlos
Castillo, Marcelo Mendoza, and Barbara Poblete,
“Predicting Information Credibility in Time-Sensitive
Social Media,” Internet Research 29, no. 5 (2013):
560–88.

27. Benjamin Paul Chamberlain, Clive Humby, and Marc
Peter Deisenroth, “Probabilistic Inference of Twitter
Users’ Age Based on What They Follow,” Associa-
tion for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence,
arXiv:1601.04621v2 [cs.SI], February 24, 2017.

28. Aditi Gupta, Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, Carlos
Castillo, and Patrick Meier, “TweetCred: Real-Time
Credibility Assessment of Content on Twitter,” in So-
cial Informatics: SocInfo 2014, ed. L. M. Aiello and D.
McFarland (London: Springer, 2014), 228–43.

29. Zhao Liang, Ting Hua, Chang-Tien Lu, and Ing-Ray
Chen, “A Topic-Focused Trust Model for Twitter,”
Computer Communications 76 (2016): 1–11; Victoria
L. Rubin, Niall J. Conroy, and Yimin Chen, “ Towards
News Verification: Deception Detection Methods for
News Discourse” (paper, Hawaii International Con-
ference on System Sciences [HICSS48] Symposium
on Rapid Screening Technologies, Deception Detec-
tion and Credibility Assessment Symposium, Kauai,
HI, January 2015), http://works
.bepress.com/victoriarubin/6/; Rubin, Chen, and
Conroy, “Deception Detection for News”; Diego Saez-
Trumper, “Fake Tweet Buster: A Webtool to Identify
Users Promoting Fake News on Twitter,” in HT ’14:
Proceedings of the 25th ACM Conference on Hypertext
and Social Media (New York: Association for Comput-
ing Machinery, 2014), 316–17, https://doi.org
/10.1145/2631775.2631786; Chen Yimin, Niall J.
Conroy, and Victoria L. Rubin, “News in an Online
World: The Need for an ‘Automatic Crap Detector,’”
Proceedings of the Association for Information Science
and Technology 52, no. 1 (2015), https://doi.org
/10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010081.

30. Clayton A. Davis, Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Luca
Maria Aiello, Keychul Chung, Michael D. Conover,
Emilio Ferrara, Alessandro Flammini, et al.,
“OSoMe: The IUNI Observatory on Social Media,”
preprint, PeerJ Preprints, accepted April 29, 2016,
https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2008v1.

31. V. S. Subrahmanian, Amos Azaria, Skylar Durst, Vad-
im Kagan, Aram Galstyan, Kristina Lerman, Linhong
Zhu, et al., “The DARPA Twitter Bot Challenge,”
Computer, June 2016, 38.

32. Norah Abokhodair, Daisy Yoo, and David W. McDon-
ald, “Dissecting a Social Botnet: Growth, Content and
Influence in Twitter,” Proceedings of the 18th ACM
Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work
and Social Computing (New York: Association for
Computing Machinery, 2015), 839–51, https://doi

https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010082

https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010082

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0105937

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0105937

http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/P12-2034

http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/P12-2034

http://doi.org/10.1145/1963192.1963301

http://doi.org/10.1145/1963192.1963301

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128193

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128193

http://works.bepress.com/victoriarubin/6/

http://works.bepress.com/victoriarubin/6/

https://doi.org/10.1145/2631775.2631786

https://doi.org/10.1145/2631775.2631786

https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010081

https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010081

https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2008v1

https://doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208

21

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208; Lorenzo Alvisi, Al-
len Clement, Alessandro Epasto, Silvio Lattanzi, and
Alessandro Panconesi, “SoK: The Evolution of Sybil
Defense via Social Networks,” in Proceedings of the
2013 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (Piscat-
away, NJ: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engi-
neers, 2013), 382–96, https://doi.org/10.1109
/SP.2013.33; Yazan Boshmaf, Ildar Muslukhov,
Konstantin Beznosov, and Matei Ripeanu, “The So-
cialbot Network: When Bots Socialize for Fame and
Money” (paper, 27th annual Computer Security Ap-
plications Conference, ACSAC 2011, Orlando, FL,
December 5–9, 2011); Qiang Cao, Xiaowei Yang,
Jieqi Yu, and Christopher Palow, “Uncovering Large
Groups of Active Malicious Accounts in Online Social
Networks” in CCS ’14: Proceedings of the 2014 ACM
SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications
Security (New York: ACM: 2014), 477–88, https://
doi.org/10.1145/2660267.2660269; Clayton Allen
Davis, Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Alessandro Flam-
mini, and Filippo Menczer, “BotOrNot: A System
to Evaluate Social Bots,” in WWW ’16 Companion:
Proceedings of the 25th International Conference
Companion on World Wide Web, 273–74, https://
doi.org/10.1145/2872518.2889302; Chad Edwards,
Autumn Edwards, Patric R. Spence, and Ashleigh
K. Shelton, “Is That a Bot Running the Social Me-
dia Feed?” Computers in Human Behavior 33 (2014)
372–76; Aviad Elyashar, Michael Fire, Dima Kagan,
and Yuval Elovici, “Homing Social Bots: Intrusion on
a Specific Organization’s Employee Using Socialbots”
in ASONAM ’13: Proceedings of the 2013 IEEE/ACM In-
ternational Conference on Advances in Social Networks
Analysis and Mining (New York: ACM, 2013), 1358–
65, https://doi.org/10.1145/2492517.2500225; Carlos
Freitas, Fabricio Benevenuto, Saptarshi Ghosh, and
Adiano Veloso, “Reverse Engineering Socialbot Infil-
tration Strategies in Twitter.” arXiv:1405.4927 [cs.SI],
May 20, 2014; Russell Frank, “Caveat Lector: Fake
News as Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore 128,
no. 509 (Summer 2015): 315–32; Varol et al., “Online
Human-Bot Interactions”; Claudia Wagner, Silvia
Mitter, Christian Körner, and Markus Strohmaier,
“When Social Bots Attack: Modeling Susceptibility of
Users in Online Social Networks” in Making Sense of
Microposts: Proceedings of the WWW ’12 Workshop on
“Making Sense of Microposts,” ed. Matthew Row, Mi-
lan Stankovic, and Aba-Sah Dadzie (CEUR Workshop
Proceedings, 2012), http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-838.

33. Claire Wardle, “Fake News: It’s Complicated,” First
Draft News, February 16, 2017, https://medium
.com/1st-draft/fake-news-its-complicated-d0f
773766c79.

34. Samuel C. Woolley and Douglas R. Guilbeault, Com-
putational Propaganda in the United States of America:
Manufacturing Consensus Online, Computational
Propaganda Research Project, Working Paper 2017.5
(Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda,
2017), 8, http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/06/19
/computational-propaganda-in-the-united-states
-of-america-manufacturing-consensus-online/.

35. Woolley and Guilbeault, Computational
Propaganda, 22.

36. Douglas Guilbeault, “Growing Bot Security: An
Ecological View of Bot Agency,” International
Journal of Communication 10 (2016): 5012.

37. Guilbeault, “Growing Bot Security,” 5012.
38. Guilbeault, “Growing Bot Security,” 5003–21.
39. Samuel C. Woolley and Philip N. Howard, “Political

Communication, Computational Propaganda, and
Autonomous Agents.” International Journal of Com-
munication 10 (2016): 4882–90; Sam Woolley and
Phil Howard, “Bad News Bots: How Civil Society Can
Combat Automated Online Propaganda,” TechPresi-
dent, December 10, 2014, http://techpresident.com
/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can
-combat-automated-online-propaganda; Jonathan
Stray, “Defense against the Dark Arts: Networked
Propaganda and Counter-propaganda.” Jonathan
Stray website, February 24, 2017, http://jonathan
stray.com/networked-propaganda-and
-counter-propaganda.

40. Tao Stein, Ergond Chen, and Karan Mangla, “Face-
book Immune System,” in Proceedings of the
4th Workshop on social network systems. Article
#8. EuroSys Social Networks Systems (SNS) 2011,
April 10, 2011 Salzburg, http://www.cse.iitd.
ac.in/~siy107537/sil765/readings/a10-stein.pdf.

41. Charles Warner, “Google Increases Regulation of
False Ads and Fake News,” Forbes, January 25, 2017,
https://www.forbes.com/sites/charleswarner/2017
/01/25/google-increases-regulation-of-false-ads-and
-fake-news/.

42. Emily Bell, “Facebook Drains the Fake News Swamp
with New, Experimental Partnerships,” Little Green
Footballs, December 15, 2016, http://littlegreen
footballs.com/page/322423_Facebook_Drains
_the_Fake_News_.

43. Kathleen Chaykowski, “Facebook Expands Fight
against Fake News with Automatic, Related Articles,”
Forbes, August 3, 2017, https://www.forbes.com
/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/08/03/facebook
-expands-fight-against-fake-news-with-automatic
-related-articles/.

https://doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208

https://doi.org/10.1109/SP.2013.33

https://doi.org/10.1109/SP.2013.33

https://doi.org/10.1145/2660267.2660269

https://doi.org/10.1145/2660267.2660269

https://doi.org/10.1145/2872518.2889302

https://doi.org/10.1145/2872518.2889302

https://doi.org/10.1145/2492517.2500225

http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-838

https://medium.com/1st-draft/fake-news-its-complicated-d0f773766c79

https://medium.com/1st-draft/fake-news-its-complicated-d0f773766c79

https://medium.com/1st-draft/fake-news-its-complicated-d0f773766c79

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/06/19/computational-propaganda-in-the-united-states-of-america-manufacturing-consensus-online/

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/06/19/computational-propaganda-in-the-united-states-of-america-manufacturing-consensus-online/

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/06/19/computational-propaganda-in-the-united-states-of-america-manufacturing-consensus-online/

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://jonathanstray.com/networked-propaganda-and-counter-propaganda

http://jonathanstray.com/networked-propaganda-and-counter-propaganda

http://jonathanstray.com/networked-propaganda-and-counter-propaganda

https://www.forbes.com/sites/charleswarner/2017/01/25/google-increases-regulation-of-false-ads-and-fake-news/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/charleswarner/2017/01/25/google-increases-regulation-of-false-ads-and-fake-news/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/charleswarner/2017/01/25/google-increases-regulation-of-false-ads-and-fake-news/

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/322423_Facebook_Drains_the_Fake_News_

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/322423_Facebook_Drains_the_Fake_News_

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/322423_Facebook_Drains_the_Fake_News_

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/08/03/facebook-expands-fight-against-fake-news-with-automatic-related-articles/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/08/03/facebook-expands-fight-against-fake-news-with-automatic-related-articles/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/08/03/facebook-expands-fight-against-fake-news-with-automatic-related-articles/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/08/03/facebook-expands-fight-against-fake-news-with-automatic-related-articles/

22

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Can We Save Ourselves?

M
ost people have no clue how the technology
that envelops them works or what physical
principles underlie its operation. . . . Thus, the

‘limits of plausibility’ have vanished, and the ‘knowl-
edge of the audience’ is constructed from Facebook
feeds, personal experience, and anecdote.”1 Notwith-
standing, there are some things individuals can do
and tools that can be used to mitigate the spread of
fake news. While we might not be able to stop the cre-
ation of fake news, individuals can take steps to help
themselves and others.

Learn about Search Engine Ranking

A first strategy to foiling the purveyors of fake news
is to educate ourselves about how fake news is created
and how it spreads. For example, when people search
for information, they often use a search engine. The
amount of information that is retrieved is always
overwhelming. The vast majority of searchers do not
look at links beyond the first page of results, and most
people never get beyond the second link on the first
page.2 This makes the placement of information on the
page of results very important. The criteria that drive
the placement of information are complex and often
opaque to the general public. The result is that search
engine users accept whatever information appears at
the top of the search results. This makes users very
vulnerable to receiving and accepting misleading or
even fake information. Learning how the ranking of
websites is accomplished can at least forewarn users
about what to look for.3

Be Careful about Who You “Friend”

In the world of social media, information is brought
directly to us, rather than requiring us to search for
it. That information is often shared and commented
on with friends and followers. One reason fake news
can spread is because we are not as careful as we
should be about accepting friend requests. It is great
to be popular, and one way of measuring popularity
is to have a long list of friends and followers. It makes
us feel good about ourselves. Because those friends
and followers generally agree with what we already
believe, having a lot of friends feeds our confirmation
bias, which also makes us feel good about ourselves.

If and when friend requests are accepted, we make
a psychological transition from thinking about the
requestor as a stranger to thinking about the requestor
as a friend. A certain amount of trust accompanies the
change in status from stranger to friend. That new
friend becomes privy to the inner circle of informa-
tion in our lives and is also connected to our other
friends and followers. We trust those friends to “do no
harm” in our lives. We can unfriend or block someone
if we change our minds, but that often happens after
something bad occurs.

The friends list can be great when everybody on
it is a human. However, it is possible for social media
friends to be bots. These bots are, at best, programmed
to gather and provide information that is similar to
what we like. Unfortunately, bots are sometimes pro-
grammed to gather and spread misinformation or dis-
information. “A recent study estimated that 61.5% of
total web traffic comes from bots. One recent study of

Chapter 4

23

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Twitter revealed that bots make for 32% of the Twitter
posts generated by the most active account.”4 About
30 percent of the bot accounts are “bad” bots.5

If we accept a bot as a friend, we have unknow-
ingly made the psychological shift to trust this bot-
friend, making any mis- or disinformation it shares
more plausible. After all, friends don’t steer friends
wrong. If an individual likes a posting from a bot, it
sends a message to the individual’s other friends that
the bot-posted information is trustworthy. “A large-
scale social bot infiltration of Facebook showed that
over 20% of legitimate users accept friendship requests
indiscriminately and over 60% accept requests from
accounts with at least one contact in common. On
other platforms like Twitter and Tumblr, connecting
and interacting with strangers is one of the main fea-
tures.”6 People with large numbers of friends or fol-
lowers are more likely to accept friend requests from
“people” they don’t know. This makes it easy for bots
to infiltrate a network of social media users.

It is very difficult to identify a friend or follower
that is actually a bot. Even Facebook and Twitter have
a hard time identifying bots. Bots are programmed
to act like humans. For example, they can be pro-
grammed to send brief, generic messages along with
the links they share. That makes them seem human.
They can be programmed to do that sharing at appro-
priate times of day. If they don’t post anything for an
eight-hour span, it makes them look like a human who
is getting a good night’s sleep. They can also mimic
human use of social media by limiting the amount of
sharing or likes for their account. If they share thou-
sands of links in a short period of time, they seem like
machines. If the number of items shared by each bot
is limited, they seem more like humans. Bots can even
be programmed to mimic words and phrases we com-
monly use and can shape messages using those words
and phrases. This makes their messages look and feel
familiar, and they are, therefore, more believable.

If we friend a bot, that bot gets access to a wide
variety of networked social media accounts and can
spread fake news to our list of friends and followers.
Those people can then share the fake news in an ever-
widening circle. This means bots can influence a large
number of people in a short period of time. Bots can
also be linked into networks called botnets, increas-
ing their ability to reshape a conversation, inflate the
numbers of people who appear to be supporting a
cause, or direct the information that humans receive.

ID Bots

It is possible to watch for bots, and we should make
it a habit to do so before accepting friend requests.
Some things we can do to protect ourselves from bots
follow:

1. Accounts that lack a profile picture, have con-
fused or misspelled handles, have low numbers
of Tweets or shares, and follow more accounts
than they have followers are likely to be bots. “If
an account directly replies to your Tweet within
a second of a post, it is likely automatically pro-
grammed.”7 Look for these signs before accepting
a friend request.

2. Should a possible bot be identified, it should be
reported. Everyone can learn how to report a sus-
pected bot. Social media sites provide links to
report misuse and propaganda.

3. Using a wide variety of hashtags and changing
them on a regular basis, rather than relying on a
single hashtag, can keep bots from smoke screen-
ing (disrupting) those hashtags.

4. If accounts you follow gain large numbers of fol-
lowers overnight, that is probably an indication
that bots are involved. Check the number of fol-
lowers for new friends.

5. For those with the skills to do so, building bots
that can counter the bad bots can be effective.8

Read before Sharing

Another reason fake news spreads and “goes viral” is
because people (and bots) click Share without having
read beyond the headline or without thinking about the
content of the message. A headline may be mislead-
ing or may be unrelated to the story it is attached to.
Headlines are meant to capture the attention, and they
are often written to provoke a strong reaction. It is easy
to provoke an emotional response with a sensational
headline. Sharing the link with others without looking
at the story attached can result in the spread of fake
news. Read the content of a link before sharing it.

In 2015, Allen B. West posted a picture of US Mus-
lims who were serving in the US military attending
a regular prayer time. The caption for the picture
was “Look at what our troops are being FORCED to
do.” This caption implied that all US servicemen and
-women were being required to participate in Muslim
prayer services during the month of Ramadan. The
picture was widely shared until it was revealed to be
“fake news.”9

The idea that the US government would require
its military personnel to participate in any religious
observance is provocative. It elicits an emotional
response, which often leads us to share both the story
and our outrage with others—to spread the word.
That knee-jerk reaction often causes us to react rather
than take the time to consider what the plausibility of
the story really is.

A strong emotional response to a picture, caption,
or headline should act as a warning to slow down,
think, and ask questions. The US military is part of

24

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

the US government. A strict separation of religion
and government is guaranteed by the Constitution
of the United States. The contradiction between the
picture caption and what we know about how the US
is governed should cause us to question the informa-
tion. Yes, soldiers must follow orders, but why would
soldiers be ordered to participate in a religious cere-
mony of any kind? Such orders would violate a funda-
mental principle on which the country was founded.
If the information were true, that would mean that
the democracy had failed and all those people sworn
to uphold the rules of the democracy deposed. If that
had happened, we would probably have heard about it
from other sources. This brief thought process should
bring the veracity of the posting into question. From
there it takes just a minute to find out that the picture
is of a regular Muslim prayer service in which US ser-
vicemen who are Muslims were participating—volun-
tarily. Invoking that brief moment of skepticism can
prevent the spread of fake news.

Fact-Check

There are a growing number of fact-checking sites
that make it their business to find out whether a story,
caption, or headline is true or false. Instead of shar-
ing the fake story with others, it is a good practice
to check with a fact-checking site first to see what it
has to say about the story. It’s a good idea to keep
a list of fact-checking sites handy for that purpose.
Snopes maintains a list of known fake news websites.
FactCheck’s Spiral Viral page shows its findings about
information most often questioned. It lists all ques-
tions and answers at its site as well.10

Some Fact-Checking Sites

Snopes (specializes in political fact checking)
www.snopes.com/

PolitiFact
www.politifact.com/

Hoax-Slayer (email and social media hoaxes)
www.hoax-slayer.com/

StopFake (fighting false information about events in
Ukraine)
www.stopfake.org

FactCheck
www.factcheck.org

Factmata (fact checks chain email)
http://factmata.com/ (fact checking using AI)

LazyTruth
www.lazytruth.com

SciCheck (fact checking for science-based claims)
www.scicheck.com

Twitter and Facebook are attempting to make use
of fact-checking organizations so they can more read-
ily identify fake news and, perhaps, identify bots that
spread the fake news. Making regular use of fact-
checking sites before sharing information with oth-
ers on social media can help stop the spread of fake
news. We can also engage with social media sites to
encourage changes that will benefit users. For exam-
ple, instead of counting clicks to determine popular-
ity, metrics rating the amount of time spent at a site
or page might be a better measure of interest. Mov-
ing away from the current popularity ratings based
on click counting could help limit the spread of fake
news. If enough users made it known that the current
popularity ratings are not adequate, it might be pos-
sible to influence the social media makers to count
something more meaningful.

Evaluate Information

We can help ourselves and our students by under-
standing how to evaluate sources and by routinely
applying that knowledge to the sources we use.11 What
is a source? What source can be relied on to be accu-
rate and reliable? What signs can help to identify a
trustworthy source?

The word source can mean several things, even in
the context of information literacy and fake news. A
source can be the person who supplied information.
A source can be the person who wrote a news article,
report, or other piece. A source can be an organiza-
tion that puts its name and reputation behind a piece
of writing. There are also anonymous sources of two
kinds: the first is the person who does not want his or
her name revealed as the one who supplied the infor-
mation to a reporter; the second is a person who hides
his or her identity or affiliations while publishing his
or her own information.

According to Dr. Anders Ericksson and colleagues,
it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert
on something.12 Whether it is playing baseball, playing
the violin, or reporting the news, at least 10,000 hours
of practice is required. That means that an expert will
usually have at least 10,000 hours more experience
than a novice. While some controversy exists about
the exact number of hours required, the nub of the

http://www.snopes.com/

http://www.politifact.com/

http://www.hoax-slayer.com/

Главная

http://www.factcheck.org

Home

Technology

http://www.scicheck.com

25

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

argument is that it requires substantial experience
and knowledge of a subject to make one an expert.
Experts always know more about their subject than
nonexperts do.

It is important to remember that experts are usu-
ally experts in one or two specific things. No one is an
expert in everything. If we are looking for expertise in
the history of the Civil War, we would not seek out an
expert in open heart surgery. For information seekers,
it should be habitual to look for biographical informa-
tion about authors to get some idea of how much expe-
rience that author has with the subject being written
about. Education, years on the job, applied experi-
ence, prizes won—all these items serve as credentials
to help verify an author’s level of expertise. It is rela-
tively easy to check the veracity of biographical infor-
mation using the internet.

Because the internet is available to everyone, any-
one can write and post what they like, whether they
have any expertise or experience with the subject. A
teenager in Macedonia invented news stories about
Donald Trump for months before the US presiden-
tial election in 2016.13 Those stories appeared along
with stories written by reputable journalists work-
ing for trusted news sources. The algorithms that
make stories from legitimate news sources and fake
news sources appear on a social media newsfeed are
based on information that people have responded to
(clicked on, liked, commented on, or shared) previ-
ously. That means if a social media user clicks on an
article written by the Macedonian teenager, it is much
more likely that user will see more of the same, rather
than articles from real news sources. It is unlikely that
a teenager in Macedonia would know more about a
US political figure than a seasoned political journalist
from the United States. Checking the credentials of an
author is another way of avoiding fake news.

Experience and education do not always result in
unbiased reporting. The reputation of the organiza-
tion that supports (employs) a reporter also serves as
a means of evaluating a source. Publishers that have
been in the news business for a while get a reputation
based on the accuracy, reliability, and slant of the sto-
ries they publish. The New York Times, Wall Street Jour-
nal, Fox News, and CNN have built their reputations
by selecting reporters who write the stories and then
by selecting the stories those authors produce. The
publishers act as gatekeepers for the news. For those
publishers with a track record for providing accurate
reporting, their reputation can serve as a credential
and can reflect that reputation on their reporters.

It is true that reporters with valid credentials
who write for reputable news outlets sometimes mis-
lead or misinform. The monetization of internet-based
news is responsible for at least some misinformation.
The relentless 24/7 flow of news also puts pressure
on reporters and publishers to release information

quickly, sometimes before the facts have been com-
pletely verified. The need for speed can also cause one
news outlet to simply repost a report from another
news outlet, even if the facts have not been verified.

Producers of On the Media have provided informa-
tional sheets in their “Breaking News Consumer’s Hand-
book.” Several points they list speak to the pressure for
legitimate news sources to release information quickly.
They offer pointers about the language reporters use
and what specific phrases mean regarding the reliabil-
ity of the information they supply.14 On the Media also
suggests that part of the verification process for news
stories should be geographic. Sources geographically
close to the incident being reported are more likely to
have reporters at the site and will therefore be closest
to the unfolding event. Checking the geographic loca-
tion of a story can help to evaluate its authenticity.

It is good practice to follow any links or citations
given in a story. Fake news writers often include links
and citations to make their posts seem more credible.
However, those links may not connect to any infor-
mation that is relevant to the original post. A Fact-
Check report posted on November 18, 2016, found the
following:

Another viral claim we checked a year ago was
a graphic purporting to show crime statistics on
the percentage of whites killed by blacks and
other murder statistics by race. Then-presidential
candidate Donald Trump retweeted it, telling Fox
News commentator Bill O’Reilly that it came “from
sources that are very credible.” But almost every
figure in the image was wrong—FBI crime data is
publicly available—and the supposed source given
for the data, “Crime Statistics Bureau—San Fran-
cisco,” doesn’t exist.15

A quick and easy check for the veracity of a source
that seems questionable is to go to the homepage of
the news source and look at what other articles are
being posted. While one story may sound plausible,
there may be others that are less so. By looking at the
site in the aggregate, it is sometimes possible to deter-
mine the purpose and tone that will help identify the
site as legitimate or bogus.

Some fake news sites will reuse older information
retrieved from other sites to mislead by association.
For example, President Donald Trump credited him-
self with convincing Ford Motor Company, after his
election, to move the production of one of their vehi-
cles from Mexico to Ohio. However, the original pub-
lication date of the announcement by Ford was August
2015, long before Mr. Trump was elected. Similarly,
in 2015, then-candidate Trump suggested that he had
influenced Ford to move its plant, citing a story on
Prntly.com. In fact, the original story came from CNN
in March 2014 and referred to moving some assembly
work to Ohio. The plant to be built in Mexico was still
being built in Mexico.16

26

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Seek Information beyond
Your Filter Bubble

We can avoid fake news by leaving our filter bubbles
and seeking out opinions that do not agree with our
own. Comparing sources is always a good idea. Com-
paring sources that illustrate different points of view
can often give some context to the interpretation of
the information being offered. If CNN says one thing
about a news story, it is likely that Fox will also cover
the same story. The differences between the two sto-
ries will often identify the “middle ground” where the
truth often lies.

We can subscribe to publications that specifically
provide information opposite from what we would get
on social media. Escape Your Bubble is an online pub-
lication that gathers information about your political
preferences and then provides you with information
that comes from sources outside your political bub-
ble. Its goal is to help people understand each other
better. There are reasons why Republicans champion
certain causes or hold certain opinions. They often do
not agree with Democrats about the reasons a prob-
lem exists or how to fix it. It’s good to get input from
both sides in order to understand why people do what
they do. Getting the facts from different perspectives
can help to identify fake news.

Escape Your Bubble
https://www.escapeyourbubble.com/

We all have biases and preferences. It is impor-
tant to acknowledge those biases and to keep them
in mind, especially when confronted with information
that does not support what that bias tells us. We must
work hard to overcome confirmation bias because
without effort we tend to dismiss information that
does not agree with what we already believe is true.
By at least considering information that disagrees, we
can make a more informed decision or form a reason-
able opinion. This is something we need to remember
and consider in this era of fake news.

Be Skeptical

Approach news with skepticism. The psychology lit-
erature shows that in order to process information,
we must initially accept or believe it. Just to make
sense of something, the default is for the brain to
believe it. It takes an additional (and more difficult)
step to reject the information as false. As time passes,
we tend to remember as true the first information we
heard, read, or saw, even if it was not true and even
if we know it was not true. The more times we hear

something, the better we remember it.17 So if we read,
see, or hear fake news from a number of friends, fol-
lowers, or bots, that information sticks in our memo-
ries, even if it is not true and even if we know it is not
true. Finally, if some information contradicts a dearly
held belief, the normal reaction is to reject that infor-
mation and to more firmly believe what we already
believe. This psychological fact allows humans to pro-
cess information, but it also makes us vulnerable to
those who manipulate information. Remaining skepti-
cal is one way to combat the biases and psychological
preferences built into our brains, at least long enough
to consider alternatives.

Use Verification and
Educational Tools

A wide variety of reliable news agencies provide infor-
mation and tips to both their reporters and their read-
ers for avoiding fake news. There are several projects
underway to increase levels of trust in the legitimate
media. The Trust Project at Santa Clara University
in California is working to “develop digital tools and
strategies to signal trustworthiness and ethical stan-
dards in reporting.”18 The Trust Project brings together
news reporters and editors with the goal of restoring
trust in the news media. This project has identified
indicators for journalism including a series of checks
that can be applied to news stories to indicate that
the information has been vetted for honesty, reliabil-
ity, ethical treatment, and so on. Articles are flagged
with indicators that show fact verification has taken
place, ethical standards have been observed, conflicts
of interest have been exposed, and reporting versus
opinion and sponsored content articles are flagged.
Over seventy news organizations are collaborating on
this project.

The Trust Project

Home

The National Institute for Computer-Assisted
Reporting is part of the 4,500-member association
Investigative Reporters and Editors. NICAR provides
the ability to combine information from varied digi-
tal sources, allowing reporters to verify information
and to extract facts and data more easily. New tools
help reporters with analysis, visualization, and pre-
sentation of structured data: Google Refine, ManyEyes
(IBM), TimeFlow (Duke University), Jigsaw (Georgia
Tech), the Sphinx Project (CMU), DocumentCloud,
and ProPublica. All of these groups are working to
help legitimate news sources provide readers with
accurate and reliable content.19

https://www.escapeyourbubble.com/

Home

27

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

National Institute for Computer-Assisted
Reporting
https://ire.org/nicar/database-library/

Investigative Reporters and Editors Association

Investigative Reporters & Editors

DocumentCloud
https://www.documentcloud.org

The Public Data Lab publishes A Field Guide to Fake
News.20 This guide describes “digital methods to trace
production, circulation and reception of fake news
online.”21 This publication was prepared for release
at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia in
April 2017. Its goal is to investigate fake news in its
context including where it appears and how it circu-
lates online.

A number of educational institutions have created
classroom curricula to help students learn to be smart
consumers of information, especially news.22 The
Stanford History Education Group has created a class-
room curriculum that includes a bank of assessments
to test the ability to judge credibility of news reports.

Stanford History Education Group
https://sheg.stanford.edu/

The News Literacy Project is a nonpartisan
national educational program that aims at teaching
middle and high school students how to read and eval-
uate news stories. It has developed an online modu-
lar curriculum called Checkology that walks students,
middle school through college, through the process of
reporting the news, from on-site reporting to publica-
tion. Students can also learn how to create their own
news stories, giving them practice in creating fair and
unbiased reports, which, in turn, helps them to evalu-
ate news stories from others.

News Literacy Project
www.thenewsliteracyproject.org

Consistent and persistent use of a handful of sim-
ple practices could help to identify fake news and to
stop its spread. Putting those practices to use could
remove or at least reduce the incentives that drive the
creators of fake news. There are tools and techniques
available to help people become informed and savvy
news consumers. Legitimate news media sources are
creating criteria and tagging to help people to iden-
tify and select “real” news. There are easy means to

escape our information bubbles and echo chambers.
In the end, it is up to all individuals to do what they
can to educate themselves about fake news and the
technology that brings fake news to their doorstep.
While we educate ourselves, we can help to educate
our students and patrons.

Notes
1. David J. Helfand, “Surviving the Misinformation

Age,” Skeptical Inquirer 41, no. 3 (May/June 2017): 2
2. Shannon Greenwood, Andrew Perrin, and Maeve

Duggan, “Social Media Update 2016,” Pew Research
Center: Internet and Technology, November 11, 2016,
www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media
-update-2016/.

3. Evan Bailyn, “Your Guide to Google’s Algorithm in
2017: All Ranking Factors, Updates and Changes,”
SEO Blog, FirstPageSage, November 21, 2016,
https://firstpagesage.com/seo-blog/2017-google
-algorithm-ranking-factors/.

4. Igal Zelfman, “Bot Traffic Report 2016,” Imperva
Incapsula Blog, January 24, 2017, https://www.incap
sula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html.

5. Norah Abokhodair, Daisy Yoo, and David W. McDon-
ald, “Dissecting a Social Botnet: Growth, Content
and Influence in Twitter,” Proceedings of the 18th
ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative
Work and Social Computing (New York: Association
for Computing Machinery, 2015), 839–51, https://
doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208.

6. Emilio Ferrara, Onur Varol, Clayton Davis, Filippo
Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini, “The Rise of So-
cial Bots,” Communications of the ACM 59, no. 7 (July
2016): 100.

7. Sam Woolley and Phil Howard, “Bad News Bots: How
Civil Society Can Combat Automated Online Propa-
ganda,” TechPresident, December 10, 2014, http://
techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how
-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online
-propaganda.

8. Eryn Carlson, with reporting by Tama Wilner, “Flag-
ging Fake News: A Look at Some Potential Tools and
Strategies for Identifying Misinformation,” Nieman-
Reports, April 14, 2017, http://niemanreports.org
/articles/flagging-fake-news/.

9. Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign
against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 114.

10. Glenn Kessler, “The Fact Checker’s Guide for Detect-
ing Fake News,” Washington Post, November 22,
2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact
-checker/wp/2016/11/22/the-fact-checkers-guide
-for-detecting-fake-news/?utm_term=.920d6de37499.

11. Sam Wineburg, Sarah McGrew, Joel Breakstone, and
Teresa Ortega, “Evaluating Information: The Corner-
stone of Civic Online Reasoning,” Stanford History
Education Group, Stanford Digital Repository, No-
vember 22, 2016, https://purl.stanford.edu
/fv751yt5934.

12. K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens
Tesch-Romer, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the

https://ire.org/nicar/database-library/

Investigative Reporters & Editors

https://www.documentcloud.org/

https://sheg.stanford.edu/

http://www.thenewsliteracyproject.org

http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/

http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/

Your Guide to Google’s Algorithm in 2017: All Ranking Factors, Updates & Changes

Your Guide to Google’s Algorithm in 2017: All Ranking Factors, Updates & Changes

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html

https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html

https://doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208

https://doi.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://techpresident.com/news/25374/bad-news-bots-how-civil-society-can-combat-automated-online-propaganda

http://niemanreports.org/articles/flagging-fake-news/

http://niemanreports.org/articles/flagging-fake-news/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/11/22/the-fact-checkers-guide-for-detecting-fake-news/?utm_term=.920d6de37499

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/11/22/the-fact-checkers-guide-for-detecting-fake-news/?utm_term=.920d6de37499

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/11/22/the-fact-checkers-guide-for-detecting-fake-news/?utm_term=.920d6de37499

28

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological
Review 100, no. 3 (1993): 393–94.

13. Samanth Subranmanian, “Inside the Macedonian
Fake-News Complex,” Wired Magazine, February
15, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/02
/veles-macedonia-fake-news.

14. “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook,” On the
Media, WNYC, www.wnyc.org/series/breaking
-news-consumers-handbook.

15. Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson, “How to Spot Fake
News,” FactCheck.org, November 18, 2016, www
.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/.

16. Tony Haile, “What You Think You Know about the
Web Is Wrong,” Time.com, March 9, 2014, http://
time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know
-about-the-web-is-wrong/.

17. Daniel T. Gilbert, “How Mental Systems Believe,”
American Psychologist 46, no. 2 (1991): 107–19.

18. Carlson, with Wilner, “Flagging Fake News,” Nieman
Reports, April 14, 2017, http://niemanreports.org
/articles/flagging-fake-news/

19. Sarah Cohen, “Computational Journalism,” Com-
munications of the ACM 54, no. 10 (October 2011):
66–71.

20. Liliana Bonegru, Jonathan Gray, Tommaso Venturi-
ni, and Michele Mauri, A Field Guide to Fake News: A
Collection of Recipes for Those Who Love to Cook with
Digital Methods, research report, first draft (Public
Data Lab, April 7, 2017), http://apo.org.au
/node/76218.

21. Bonegru et al., Field Guide, 2.
22. John Dyer, “Can News Literacy Be Taught?” Nieman-

Reports, April 14, 2017, http://niemanreports.org
/articles/can-news-literacy-be-taught/.

https://www.wired.com/2017/02/veles-macedonia-fake-news

https://www.wired.com/2017/02/veles-macedonia-fake-news

http://www.wnyc.org/series/breaking-news-consumers-handbook

http://www.wnyc.org/series/breaking-news-consumers-handbook

How to Spot Fake News

How to Spot Fake News

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://apo.org.au/node/76218

http://apo.org.au/node/76218

http://niemanreports.org/articles/can-news-literacy-be-taught/

http://niemanreports.org/articles/can-news-literacy-be-taught/

29

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

How Can We Help Our
Students?

Teach Information or Media Literacy

Students today have never lived in a world without
computers and cellphones. They have always been
immersed in technology and bombarded with infor-
mation. This is normal for them. They use technol-
ogy easily and accept new technology readily. They
are willing to experiment and are quick to discard
anything that is not entertaining or that takes too
long to complete. They live in a world of 3-D, virtual
reality, and predictive searching. They have a pref-
erence for visual rather than written material. They
skim the surface of the information they receive,
rather than doing a deep dive to thoroughly research
a topic. They expect technology to work for them, at
lightning speed, without the need for instruction or
intervention.

Most people are confident that they know more
than they do. Experiments conducted by David Dun-
ning and Justin Kruger in 1999 showed that people
who know relatively little about a subject are overcon-
fident about their level of expertise in it.1 The “Dun-
ning-Kruger effect” finds that students and others
overestimate what they know, despite knowing that
they lack experience or knowledge of the subject. Peo-
ple in general tend to trust their social media friends,
and students in particular tend to rely on social media
for their information. The sources of information they
trust are the ones their friends share with them. The
expertise of the author, the possible bias of the pro-
ducer, the geographic location of the creator, the facts
that back up an assertion or claim, all take a back seat
to the credibility of their friend network. This makes
them particularly susceptible to manipulation. If they
happen to have unknowingly friended a bot that feeds

them misinformation, they are likely to believe that
information.

Helping individuals learn to be information- or
media-literate is one of the single most important
skills we can offer. It translates into the ability to
understand, control, and apply information. In order
to combat fake news, the first step should be to start
teaching students early in their education. By the time
students get to high school, which is typically the first
place they encounter “information literacy” today,
their learning habits are ingrained. We need to teach
basic information literacy skills much earlier in life,
and we need to repeat lessons throughout a student’s
education.

Psychologically, the first thing we see or hear
about a topic is what we remember as true. The more
times we hear something repeated, the more likely it
is that we will remember it, even if it is not true.2 To
start students on the road to information or media lit-
eracy, we need to start teaching those skills in ele-
mentary school so that critical thinking and question-
ing will become ingrained and habitual. We need to
capitalize on children’s propensity to ask questions
and encourage them to do so. We also need to help
them learn how to find answers to their questions. A
scaffolded curriculum of information literacy across
the K–12 system would build a foundation that stu-
dents could use to approach adult problems after
graduation.

Students need guidance as they often lack life
experience. Teaching students to seek out experts and
to value those who have expertise in a subject will
provide them with a key to avoiding fake news. With
the democratization of access to information via the
internet, it is easy to find information, but is it not

Chapter 5

30

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

always easy to determine if that information came
from an expert and trustworthy source.3 Students
should understand that information coming from an
expert source will be more reliable than information
coming from an unknown source. Teachers should
provide guidelines for students to use in identifying
and selecting information supplied by experts.

As students reach high school, their tendency is
to rely less on the expertise of their teachers and rely
more on their friends. This is problematic in terms of
fake news because many students get their news only
from their social media newsfeed. Teens often share
news they have received via social media because a
headline or a picture, rather than the actual content of
an article, has caught their attention. They are often
unaware that they are receiving information from
bots driven by algorithms based on the likes, shares,
and clicks at their social media pages. They are often
unaware that the information they see can be influ-
enced by nonhuman actors. Students often do not seek
out alternate sources of information, nor do they com-
pare information to see how details might differ. We
need to encourage them to do so and show them how.
Technological interventions that are entertaining as
well as instructive can help to get information across
to teens.

Make Students Aware of
Psychological Processes

Knowledge is power. When we are aware that we are
psychologically programmed to believe information
first and then reject it later if necessary, it becomes
easier to insert skepticism into our analysis of news.
This makes it easier to reject fake news if we can ini-
tially accept that it might be fake news. It is easier
to dismiss the initial misinformation if we know our
brain has a tendency to hold onto it. Explaining the
psychological tendencies that could cause students
to believe fake news, and reminding them of those
tendencies periodically, can give them a means of
examining that news more critically. Making students
aware of how their brains are working can improve
their performance.4

In college, students are often psychologically ready
for a fresh start or at least exhibit a willingness to con-
sider new ideas. At this critical juncture, it is impor-
tant to provide the reasoning and the instruction that
will help them to apply their critical-thinking skills
to their new environment. The freshman experience
concerning information literacy can be very impor-
tant, as it can, if successful, create the basis for the
rest of their college work. It is important to introduce
academically related information-literacy concepts
and skills at a time when they can be applied immedi-
ately to an assignment or problem. Skills concerning

fake news can be taught any time as fake news is a
“hot topic” in the nonacademic world, and students
will have the opportunity to apply what they learn
immediately in their personal lives. Workshops, tuto-
rials, YouTube videos, and games can be created based
on the topic of fake news. The information-literacy
skills conveyed in the exercises about fake news can
be applied immediately, but can also be transferred to
academic issues at the appropriate time.

Tie Information Literacy to
Workplace Applications

Building a curriculum to serve college students is
critical to producing the workforce practices employ-
ers are looking for. It is critical to tie information
literacy to the world outside academia and beyond
college. Students need to know how important the
information literacy skills are going to be to their
future success in the working world.5 Most students
will not have access to the research databases avail-
able to them at the university level once they move
into the working world. Students are usually familiar
with common platforms such as Google and Facebook.
Lessons involving Google and social media platforms
can provide a focus for instruction using sources stu-
dents might have available to them as workers and
that they will certainly use in their everyday lives.
Tips, shortcuts, and cautions can center on the issue
of fake news, to make a class or workshop content rel-
evant while teaching valuable skills.

The information literacy skills and concepts stu-
dents are taught need to be offered in memorable
ways, across the curriculum. Offer students instruction
options in as many media as possible. Remember stu-
dents today are visual people for the most part. They
don’t read deeply, and they tend to reject anything
that has no entertainment value. A YouTube video can
have more impact than an in-class demonstration. A
comic book about information literacy problem solv-
ing can be more memorable than a checklist hand-
out. Make sure the tools you make available are eas-
ily accessible electronically. A problem-solving online
game can be effective as well as entertaining. Having
students create information literacy projects centered
on issues they feel are important could offer them an
opportunity for deeper understanding of the subject
and provide valuable insight. Get input from students
about what teaching tools they find most effective and
compelling.

Collaborate with a film studies class, an art class,
or a computer engineering class to address informa-
tion literacy topics in new and interesting ways. Part-
ner with other instructors as often as possible to allow
students to get information literacy training in more
than one setting, while they are learning another

31

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

subject. This will allow students to understand the
applicability of information literacy to other subjects.

Have students work on hands-on exercises that
demonstrate the need for care in selecting sources.
In memory studies, it has been shown that people
remember better if they have done something them-
selves.6 Rather than telling or showing students how
to find a source or check for factuality, plan instruc-
tion so that the students do the work, guided by the
teacher. Go the next step and have students apply what
they learn in one setting to a problem in another set-
ting. It has also been shown that students benefit from
working in groups. Allowing instruction to take place
in small groups with input as necessary from a roam-
ing instructor will help students to learn from one
another and to better remember what they learned.

Teach Students to
Evaluate Information

Teach students about author credentials and how to
evaluate them. Credential is a term librarians often
use, but many students do not know exactly what the
term means. What is a credential? What credentials
are legitimate indicators of expertise? Acceptable
credentials will vary from subject to subject, so the
definition is hard to pin down. Academic researchers
often try to use sources with peer-review processes
in place to do the vetting of authors for them. Unfor-
tunately, in daily life those academic sources do not
always serve. They require extra steps to access, and
they often require affiliation with an organization that
supplies the sources. Most people receiving news from
social media are not likely to check that news against
an academic database or other reliable source in any
case. It can be time consuming to discover an author’s
credentials. Students will benefit from instruction in
what constitutes a credential, where to find evidence
of credentials, and why it’s worth the time it takes to
discover an author’s credentials.

In the same way, students should be encouraged
to think about bias. Everyone has biases that shape
their worldview. That worldview has an impact on the
interpretation of events. In reporting on a controver-
sial situation, a journalist should strive for objectiv-
ity, but bias can color the representation of the event.
It can have an effect on what an eyewitness sees. It
can have an effect on the words a reporter chooses
when writing a story. Knowing the point of view of the
author will help students to identify bias. Biographi-
cal information about the author can be helpful in this
regard, as is knowing the viewpoint and reputation
of the organization the reporter works for. Have stu-
dents consider, for example, how a reporter working
for the NRA might present information about a school
shooting. That same school shooting will probably

be reported differently by a reporter writing for an
anti-gun group. When confronting controversial sub-
jects, students should be given instruction that will
help them find information from both sides of the
story. Once students understand why the credentials
of authors are important and how those credentials
inform the reader of possible bias, have a discussion
to help them to understand why they should not rely
on anonymous sources of information.

Teach Information Literacy
Skills and Concepts

Concentrate on information literacy concepts and
skills, rather than teaching students how to use a par-
ticular tool. Use those general concepts and skills in
concert with exercises that allow students to explore
a variety of research tools. Instructors will never have
enough time to demonstrate every database for stu-
dents. It is more efficient to explain to students how
databases work in general and then have them use
a variety of databases to experience how they differ
from one another. Students have been using computer
databases most of their lives—Google, Facebook,
Twitter—and they frequently learn how to use them
by trial and error rather than by reading a help page
or following step-by-step instruction sheets. Have
them spend their time applying searching and evalu-
ation skills to content rather than learning how to use
a particular database.

Make fact-checking sites known and available (see
gray box). If students are taught to be skeptical about
information, they should have questions about the
truth of the news they access. In order to verify news
as real or fake, students should be given the tools nec-
essary to do so. Rather than relying on their network
of friends or the popularity rating of a post, students
should be directed to fact-checking sites, and informa-
tion about what those sites are should be readily avail-
able at multiple locations—websites, social media
pages, printable lists, and so on.

Snopes
www.snopes.com

PolitiFact
www.politifact.com

FactCheck
www.factcheck.org

Show students the importance of following up
on citations and links. Information literacy instruc-
tors have used an article called “Feline Reactions to

http://www.snopes.com

http://www.politifact.com

http://www.factcheck.org

32

Li
b

ra
ry

T
e
ch

n
o

lo
g

y
R

e
p

o
rt

s
al

at
ec

h
so

u
rc

e.
o
rg

N

o
v
e
m

b
e
r/

D
e
ce

m
b

e
r

2
0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

Bearded Men” to demonstrate the importance of con-
sidering all aspects of an article. The article appears
to be reporting the results of a research experiment
and is formatted to look like a legitimate research
article. It is only when one examines the bibliogra-
phy that things begin to look suspicious. There are
articles listed in the bibliography supposedly authored
by Madonna and Dr. Seuss, for example. Nonexis-
tent journals are cited as well.7 An unwary or novice
researcher might be led to believe that the article was
reporting on serious research. In the same way, fake
news may contain links and citations to articles and
other information simply to give the story the look of
serious research and reporting. In fact, the links may
lead to information that is false, biased, or completely
unrelated to the subject. It is important to follow links
and citations to verify that they support the claims
made in the original piece.

Show students how easy it is to create a fake web-
site using a URL that looks very similar to a legiti-
mate website. Many fake news sites use web addresses
that are very similar to the web addresses of legit-
imate news agencies. It is very easy to assume that
the news being displayed is true if one is convinced
that the source is legitimate. Unusual add-ons after
the domain name, replacement of a capital letter with
a small letter, replacing a 1 (numeral one) with an l
(lower-case letter L) or vice versa are all tiny details
that can make the difference between getting real
news and getting fake news.

Teach students to use critical-thinking skills to
evaluate a post before they send it on to friends or fol-
lowers. This could mean training that examines the
psychology of memory, the explanation of algorithms
and other computer-related processes, or the exami-
nation of author credentials. Since librarians typically
have a very limited amount of time in which to con-
vey their message, the information must be stripped
to the bare essentials for classroom use. This would
be a good place to make creative use of technology to
create lessons that get the message out electronically,
making them available at any time. Lessons online
can be assigned for homework or preparation for a
class, rather than in a face-to-face class. Make a series
of TED-style talks about critical thinking, for exam-
ple, and post them on the library web page or Face-
book page.

Teach students about privacy issues. Students are
fairly cavalier about providing personal information
online in order to accomplish something. They are
often unaware of what happens to the information
they supply. Revealing basic information to set up a
profile or gain access to a website doesn’t seem inva-
sive. However, many groups that ask for basic infor-
mation sell that information to others.8 There are
groups that buy information from multiple sources,
and using the power of computing, put an individual’s

profile from multiple sites into one file, which may
reveal more than one might wish. Individually, the
profiles are not necessarily useful, but in the aggre-
gate, they can reveal private information without the
knowledge of the individual.

Teach students to slow down. Research shows that
the average time spent on a web page is less than fif-
teen seconds.9 While this might be enough time to
grasp the content of a headline, it is not enough time
to examine the meaning of the content or to deter-
mine where the information came from. Allowing suf-
ficient time to absorb the content of a page is criti-
cal to understanding the message. Taking the time to
think about the content of a web page before passing
it on to someone else will help to stop the spread of
fake news.

Teach the Teachers

Teach the teachers. While librarians have been
immersed in information literacy for decades, other
teachers have not necessarily had information liter-
acy at the forefront of their curricular objectives. As
the automated provision of information has become
unavoidable, and the manipulation of that informa-
tion for good or evil is now in the hands of anyone
with sufficient coding skills to accomplish it, teachers
at all levels in all subject areas are ready to benefit
from the decades-old expertise of librarians. Librar-
ians should make their information literacy instruc-
tion materials readily available and advertise their
location. Offer workshops and instruction to faculty
and others who influence students. Giving workshops
for teachers in the late summer or early fall will help
them understand the problems associated with fake
news and prepare them to help their students. This is
also the time to act as a liaison with writing and tutor-
ing centers of all levels and kinds to share informa-
tion literacy lessons with them. By teaching the teach-
ers we can expand our reach beyond the fifty-minute
one-shot session. Cooperation and collaboration with
instructors in every subject area will help students
to solidify their skills in information literacy and to
avoid fake news.

Conclusion

The creation and spread of fake news is a problem that
seems ingrained in human nature. It has existed for
millennia and has been used to sway public opinion,
smear reputations, and mislead the unwary. In the
digital age, information travels much more widely and
much faster than it ever has before. Computer power
makes it easy to manipulate huge amounts of data,
aggregate data from past and present research, and

33

Lib
ra

ry
Te

ch
n

o
lo

g
y
R

e
p

o
rts

alatech
so

u
rce.o

rg

N
o

v
e
m

b
e
r/D

e
ce

m
b

e
r 2

0
1
7

Combating Fake News in the Digital Age Joanna M. Burkhardt

democratize access to information. Computer power
also makes it easy for those who know how to “game
the system” for their own purposes. Fake news online
is difficult to identify, its source is difficult to identify,
and the means of making it stop are not yet known.

Information literacy focusing on social media and
fake news appears to be the best option for allow-
ing students, teachers, and the general public to
avoid being taken in by those who create fake news.
In the past, people were told, “Don’t believe every-
thing you read in the newspaper.” More recently, peo-
ple have been told, “Don’t believe everything you see
on television.” Today the warning must be, “Don’t
believe everything you see, hear, or read on social
media.” Healthy skepticism and rigorous evaluation of
sources—authors, publishers, and content—are key to
avoiding fake news.

Notes
1. Justin Kruger and David Dunning, “Unskilled and

Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s
Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessment,”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, no. 6
(1999): 1121–34.

2. Daniel T. Gilbert, “How Mental Systems Believe,”
American Psychologist 46, no. 2 (1991): 107–19.

3. Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign
against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

4. Michael S. Ayers and Lynne M. Reder, “A Theoreti-
cal Review of the Misinformation Effect: Predic-
tions from an Actuation-Based Memory Model,”
Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 5, no. 1 (2008):
1–21; Meital Balmas, “When Fake News Becomes
Real: Combined Exposure to Multiple News Sources
and Political Attitudes of Inefficacy, Alienation and
Cynicism,” Communication Research 41, no. 3 (2014):
430–54; André Blais, Elisabeth Gidengil, Patrick
Fournier, and Jiyoon Kim, “Political Judgments,
Perceptions of Facts, and Partisan Effects,” Electoral
Studies 29 (2010): 1–12; Prashant Bordia and Nicho-
las DiFonzo, “Psychological Motivations in Rumor
Spread,” in Rumor Mills: The Social Impact of Rumor
and Legend, ed. Gary Alan Fine, Veronique Campion-
Vincent, and Chip Heath (Piscataway, NJ: Aldine
Transactions, 2005), 87–101; R. Kelly Garrett, “Echo
Chambers Online? Politically Motivated Selective

Exposure among Internet News Users,” Journal
of Computer-Mediated Communication 14 (2009):
265–85; Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker,
Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, and John Cook,
“Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influ-
ence and Successful Debiasing,” Psychological Science
in the Public Interest 13, no. 3 (2012): 106–31; Mi-
chelle L. Meade and Henry L. Roediger III, “Explora-
tions in the Social Contagion of Memory,” Memory
and Cognition 30, no. 7 (2002): 995–1009; Danielle
C. Polage, “Making Up History: False Memories
of Fake News Stories,” Europe’s Journal of Psychol-
ogy 8, no. 2 (2012): 245–50; Betsy Sparrow and
Ljubica Chatman, “Social Cognition in the Internet
Age: Same as It Ever Was?” Psychological Inquiry 24
(2013): 273–92; Adrian F. Ward, “Supernormal: How
the Internet Is Changing Our Memories and Our
Minds,” Psychological Inquiry 24 (2013): 341–48.

5. Tyler Omoth, “The Top 5 Job Skills That Employers
Are Looking for in 2017,” TopResume, accessed Sep-
tember 7, 2017, https://www.topresume.com/career
-advice/the-top-5-job-skills-that-employers-are-look
ing-for-in-2017; Susan Adams, “The 10 Skills Employ-
ers Most Want in 20-Something Employees,” Forbes,
October 11, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/su
sanadams/2013/10/11/the-10-skills-employers-most
-want-in-20-something-employees/#4a06d13a6330.

6. Gilbert, “How Mental Systems Believe.”
7. Catherine Maloney, Sarah J. Lichtblau, Nadya Kar-

pook, Carolyn Chou, and Anthony Arena-DeRosa,
“Feline Reactions to Bearded Men,” Improbable Re-
search (blog), accessed September 6, 2017, Annals of
Improbable Research, www.improbable.com
/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html.

8. David Auerbach, “You Are What You Click: On Mi-
crotargeting,” Nation, February 13, 2013, https://
www.thenation.com/article/you-are-what-you
-click-microtargeting/; Nicholas Diakopoulos, “Rage
against the Algorithms,” Atlantic, October 3, 2013,
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive
/2013/10/rage-against-the-algorithms/280255/;
Tarleton Gillespie, “The Relevance of Algorithms,”
in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication,
Materiality and Society, ed. Tarleson Gillespie, Pablo
J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2014), 167–94.

9. Tony Haile, “What You Think You Know about the
Web Is Wrong,” Time.com, March 9, 2014, http://
time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know
-about-the-web-is-wrong/.

https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/the-top-5-job-skills-that-employers-are-looking-for-in-2017

https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/the-top-5-job-skills-that-employers-are-looking-for-in-2017

https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/the-top-5-job-skills-that-employers-are-looking-for-in-2017

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/10/11/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-20-something-employees/%234a06d13a6330

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/10/11/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-20-something-employees/%234a06d13a6330

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/10/11/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-20-something-employees/%234a06d13a6330

http://www.improbable.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html

http://www.improbable.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html

https://www.thenation.com/article/you-are-what-you-click-microtargeting/

https://www.thenation.com/article/you-are-what-you-click-microtargeting/

https://www.thenation.com/article/you-are-what-you-click-microtargeting/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/rage-against-the-algorithms/280255/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/rage-against-the-algorithms/280255/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/

Notes

Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation
Library Technology Reports, Publication No. 024-897, is published eight times a year by the American Library As-
sociation, 50 East Huron St., Chicago (Cook), Illinois 60611-2795. The editor is Samantha Imburgia, American
Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795. Annual subscription price, $325.00. Printed
in U.S.A. with periodicals class postage paid at Chicago, Illinois, and at additional mailing offices. As a nonprofit
organization authorized to mail at special rates (DMM Section 424.12 only), the purpose, function, and nonprofit
status of this organization and the exempt status for federal income tax purposes have not changed during the
preceding twelve months.

(Average figures denote the average number of copies printed each issue during the preceding twelve months;
actual figures denote actual number of copies of single issue published neared to filing date: August/September
2017 issue.) Total number of copies printed: average, 655; actual, 613. Paid distribution outside the mails includ-
ing sales through dealers and carriers, street vendors, counter sales, and other paid distribution outside the USPS:
average 81; actual, 57. Total paid distribution: average, 419; actual, 381. Free or nominal rate copies mailed at
other classes through the USPS (e.g., First-Class mail): average, 0; actual, 0. Free or nominal rate distribution out-
side the mail (carriers or other means): average, 12; actual, 11. Total free or nominal rate distribution: average,
12; actual, 11. Office use, leftover, unaccounted, spoiled after printing: average, 224; actual, 221. Total: average,
755; actual, 613. Percentage paid: average, 97.3%; actual, 97.19%.

Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation (PS Form 3526, July 2014) filed with the United States Post
Office Postmaster in Chicago, September 27, 2017.

Subscribe
alatechsource.org/subscribe

Purchase single copies in the ALA Store
alastore.ala.org

alatechsource.org
ALA TechSource, a unit of the publishing department of the American Library Association

Library Technology
R E P O R T S

Upcoming Issues

January
54:1

Library Spaces and Smart Buildings:
Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design
edited by Jason Griffey

February/
March
54:2

How to Stay on Top of Emerging Tech Trends
by David Lee King

April
54:3

Privacy and Security Online
by Nicole Hennig

http://alatechsource.org/subscribe

http://alastore.ala.org

http://alatechsource.org

Copyright of Library Technology Reports is the property of American Library Association
and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without
the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or
email articles for individual use.

_GoBack
_GoBack
_GoBack
_GoBack
_GoBack
_GoBack
History of Fake News
Pre–Printing Press Era
Post–Printing Press Era
Mass Media Era
Internet Era
Global Reach of Fake News
Notes

How Fake News Spreads
Word of Mouth
Written Word
Printed Media
Internet
Social Media
Notes

Can Technology Save Us?
Technology of Fake News
Big Data
Bots
Experiments in Fake News Detection
Experiments in Bot and Botnet Detection
Google and Facebook Anti–Fake
News Efforts
Notes

Can We Save Ourselves?
Learn about Search Engine Ranking
Be Careful about Who You “Friend”
ID Bots
Read before Sharing
Fact-Check
Evaluate Information
Seek Information beyond Your Filter Bubble
Be Skeptical
Use Verification and Educational Tools
Notes

How Can We Help Our Students?
Teach Information or Media Literacy
Make Students Aware of Psychological Processes
Tie Information Literacy to Workplace Applications
Teach Students to Evaluate Information
Teach Information Literacy Skills and Concepts
Teach the Teachers
Conclusion
Notes

Common misconceptions of critical thinking

SHARON BAILIN, ROLAND CASE,
JERROLD R. COOMBS and LEROI B. DANIELS

In this paper, the ® rst of two, we analyse three widely-held conceptions of critical
thinking: as one or more skills, as mental processes, and as sets of procedures. Each
view is, we contend, wrong-headed, misleading or, at best, unhelpful. Some who write
about critical thinking seem to muddle all three views in an unenlightening me lange.
Apart from the errors or inadequacies of the conceptions themselves, they promote or
abet misconceived practices for teaching critical thinking. Together, they have led to
the view that critical thinking is best taught by practising it. We o� er alternative
proposals for the teaching of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a subject of considerable current interest, both in terms
of theory and pedagogy. A great deal is written about critical thinking,
conferences on the subject abound, and educational initiatives aimed at
fostering critical thinking proliferate.1 It is our view that much of the
theoretical work and many of the pedagogical endeavours in this area are
misdirected because they are based on faulty conceptions of critical think-
ing. Critical thinking is frequently conceptualized in terms of skills, pro-
cesses, procedures and practice. Much of the educational literature either
refers to cognitive or thinking skills or equates critical thinking with certain
mental processes or procedural moves that can be improved through
practice. In this paper we attempt to explain the misconceptions inherent
in such ways of conceptualizing critical thinking. It is important to note
that much of the literature contains a pervasive miasma of overlapping uses
of such terms as skill, process, procedure, behaviour, mental operations,

j. curriculum studies, 1999, vol. 31, no. 3, 269± 283

S haron Bailin, a professor in the Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby,
British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6, is interested in philosophical inquiries into critical
thinking, creativity and aesthetic education. Her publications include Reason and V alues:
New Essays in Philosophy of Education (Calgary, AB: Detselig, 1993), co-edited with John P.
Portelli.
Roland Case, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University,
conducts research in social studies and legal and global education. His most recent book is
The Canadian Anthology of Social S tudies: Issues and S trategies (Burnaby, BC: Faculty of
Education, Simon Fraser University), co-edited with Penney Clark.
Jerrold R. Coombs, a professor in the Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia,
has published extensively on ethical issues in education and the development of competence
in practical reasoning. His publications include Applied Ethics: A Reader (Oxford: Black-
well, 1993), co-edited with Earl R. Winkler.
L eRoi B. Daniels, a professor emeritus in the Faculty of Education, University of British
Columbia, is interested in philosophy of mind and legal education. He is currently editing
(with Roland Case) the `Critical Challenges Across the Curriculum’ series (Burnaby, BC:
Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University).

Journal of Curriculum S tudies ISSN 0022± 0272 print/ISSN 1366± 5839 online Ñ 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd
http://www.tandf.co.uk/JNLS/cus.htm

http://www.taylorandfrancis.com/JNLS/cus.htm

etc. We thus ® nd similar kinds of error and confusion about critical
thinking under super® cially di� erent ways of talking. We have tried to
focus on plausibly distinct uses of skill, process and procedure in our
critiques. Our arguments will lay the groundwork for o� ering a new
conception based on di� erent foundational assumptions in the following
paper on this theme.

Cr i ti c a l th i n ki n g a s s ki l l

Many educators and theorists appear to view the task of teaching critical
thinking as primarily a matter of developing thinking skills. Indeed, the
discourse on thinking is su� used with skill talk. Courses and conferences
focus on the development of thinking skills and references to skills appear
in much of the literature.2 Even leading theorists in the area of critical
thinking conceptualize critical thinking largely in terms of skill. Thus, for
example, Siegel (1988: 39, 41) writes of the critical thinker as possessing à
certain character as well as certain skills’ , and makes reference to `a wide
variety of reasoning skills’ . Similarly, Paul (1984: 5) refers to critical
thinking skills and describes them as `a set of integrated macro-logical
skills’ . The Delphi Report on critical thinking (Facione 1990), which
purports to be based on expert consensus in the ® eld, views critical thinking
in terms of cognitive skills in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference,
explanation and self-regulation.

It is important to note that the term s̀kill’ can be used in a variety of
senses and that, as a consequence, some of the discussion of skills in critical
thinking is relatively unproblematic. In some instances s̀kill’ is used to
indicate that an individual is pro® cient at the task in question. It is used, in
this context, in an achievement sense. A skilled reasoner is one who is able
to reason well and to meet the relevant criteria for good reasoning. The use
of skill in this context focuses attention on students being capable of
intelligent performance as opposed to merely having propositional knowl-
edge about intelligent performance. Thus, someone who is thinking criti-
cally can do more than cite a de® nition for ad hominem. He or she will
notice inappropriate appeals to an arguer’ s character in particular argu-
mentative contexts. Clearly, being a critical thinker involves, among other
things, having a certain amount of `know-how’. Such thinkers are skilled,
then, in the sense that they must be able to ful® ll relevant standards of good
thinking. Conceptualizing critical thinking as involving skill in this
achievement sense is relatively benign.

However, some of the discussion of skills in the context of critical
thinking is more problematic. There is a strong tendency among educators
to divide educational goals or objectives into three distinct kinds: knowl-
edge, skills (i.e. abilities), and attitudes (i.e. values), and to assign critical
thinking to the category of skills.3 Conceiving of critical thinking as a skill
in this sense implies more than simply that an individual is a competent or
pro® cient thinker. It is based on a conception of skill as an identi® able
operation which is generic and discrete. There are di� culties with both of
these notions. We will begin with the problems entailed in viewing skills as

270 s. bailin ET A L .

generic, i.e. once learned, they can be applied in any ® eld of endeavour; the
problems involved in viewing skills as discrete will be dealt with later.

Skills as generic

The identi® cation of critical thinking with skill in the tripartite division of
educational goals separates critical thinking from the development of
knowledge, understanding and attitudes. Critical thinking is seen to involve
generic operations that can be learned in themselves, apart from any
particular knowledge domains, and then transferred to or applied in
di� erent contexts. Thus, for example, Worsham and Stockton (1986: 11,
12) claim that t̀here are some skills that are basic and common to most
curriculum tasks (for example, gathering information, ® nding the main
idea, determining meaning)’ . They further state that:

Most curriculum materials at the high school level require that students
analyze, synthesize, and evaluate as well as to[sic] create new `products’, such
as original oral and written pieces and artistic creations. Students are
expected to apply the appropriate thinking skills to accomplish these tasks.

In a similar vein, Beyer (1987: 163) makes reference to discrete thinking
skills and claims that:

To be pro® cient in a thinking skill or strategy means to be able to use that
operation e� ectively and e� ciently on one’s own in a variety of appropriate
contexts.

The separation of knowledge and critical thinking is fraught with
di� culties however. If the claim that critical thinking skills are generic is
taken to mean that these skills can be applied in any context regardless of
background knowledge, then the claim seems clearly false. Background
knowledge in the particular area is a precondition for critical thinking to
take place. A person cannot analyse a particular chemical compound if he or
she does not know something about chemistry, and without an under-
standing of certain historical events a person will be unable to evaluate
competing theories regarding the causes of World War I.

Many theorists acknowledge the necessity of background knowledge for
critical thinking but still maintain a separation between knowledge and the
skill or skills of thinking critically. For example, Nickerson et al. (1985: 49)
contend that:

recognizing the interdependence of thinking and knowledge does not deny
the reality of the distinction. It is at least conceivable that people possessing
the same knowledge might di� er signi® cantly in how skillfully they apply
what they know.

We argue, however, that the distinction is itself untenable. Skilled
performance at thinking tasks cannot be separated from knowledge. The
kinds of acts, such as predicting and interpreting, which are put forth as
generic skills will, in fact, vary greatly depending on the context, and this
di� erence is connected with the di� erent kinds of knowledge and under-

common misconceptions of critical thinking 271

standing necessary for successful completion of the particular task. Inter-
preting a graph is a very di� erent sort of enterprise from interpreting a
play. The former involves coming to an understanding of the relationships
among the plotted entities based on understanding certain geometric
conventions; the latter involves constructing a plausible meaning for the
play based on textual evidence. Both of these di� er again from the case of
interpreting someone’s motives, which involves imputing certain beliefs or
attitudes to an individual based on reading verbal and bodily cues as well as
on past knowledge of the person. Similarly, predicting how a story will end
calls upon very di� erent understanding than does predicting the weather. It
makes little sense, then, to think in terms of generic skills, which are simply
applied or transferred to di� erent domains of knowledge.

Becoming pro® cient at critical thinking itself involves, among other
things, the acquisition of certain sorts of knowledge. For example, the
knowledge of certain critical concepts which enable one to make distinc-
tions is central to critical thinking. Understanding the di� erence between a
necessary and a su� cient condition is not just background knowledge but is
very much a part of what is involved in thinking critically.

Similarly, pro® ciency in critical thinking involves an understanding of
the various principles which govern good thinking in particular areas, and
many of these are domain speci® c, as McPeck (1981) has pointed out.
Barrow (1991: 12) makes the point in this way:

What is clear, what is contradictory, what is logical, and so forth, depends
upon the particular context. . . . To be logical in discussion about art is not a
matter of combining logical ability with information about art. It is a matter
of understanding the logic of art, of being on the inside of aesthetic concepts
and aesthetic theory. The capacity to be critical about art is inextricably
intertwined with understanding aesthetic discourse.

Facione (1990: 10) sums up well this general point:

This domain-speci® c knowledge includes understanding methodological
principles and competence to engage in norm-regulated practices that are
at the core of reasonable judgements in those speci® c contexts. . . . Too much
of value is lost if CT [critical thinking] is conceived of simply as a list of
logical operations and domain-speci® c knowledge is conceived of simply as
an aggregation of information.

An additional di� culty with the identi® cation of critical thinking solely
with skills to the exclusion of knowledge and attitudes is that it fails to
recognize the central role played by attitudes in thinking critically. Critical
thinking involves more than the ability to engage in good thinking. It also
involves the willingness or disposition to do so. Siegel (1988) refers to this
aspect of critical thinking as the critical spirit and sees it as of equal
importance to the reason-assessment component. Ennis (1987) includes a
list of dispositions in his conception of critical thinking, and dispositions,
and values and traits of character are central to Paul’ s (1982) notion of a
s̀trong sense’ of critical thinking.

272 s. bailin ET A L .

Skills as discrete

Another major di� culty with the equation of critical thinking with skill is
that it assumes the existence of certain discrete processes, procedures or
operations. It is assumed that acquiring a skill involves becoming pro® cient
at these processes. Thus, Chuska (1986: 25) distinguishes between the
`ways of thinking (the processes involved)’ and t̀hinking skills (the pro® –
ciency a person demonstrates in using the processes)’. In some cases these
processes are thought to involve certain mental processes or operations, and
in others these processes are conceived of in terms of procedures or steps.
The di� culties with both these conceptualizations are dealt with below.

Cr i ti c a l th i n ki n g a s m e n ta l p r o c e s s e s

It is a common assumption in discourse about critical thinking that being
good at critical thinking is basically a matter of being pro® cient at certain
mental processes.4 These processes are generally thought to include such
things as classifying, inferring, observing, evaluating, synthesizing and
hypothesizing. Kirby and Kuykendall (1991: 7, 11), for example, hold
that t̀hinking is a holistic process in which di� erent mental operations
work in concert’ and allude to ìntellectual skills training’ . It is our view
that a purely `processes’ conception of critical thinking is logically mis-
leading and pedagogically mischievous.5

In medicine, talking about processes as outcomes makes some sense. An
obstetrician may give a newborn infant an appropriately sound smack to
start up certain vital processes. May we not suggest that teachers should
seek to do something analogous? If we do, we are presumably not suggest-
ing that they should seek the occurrence of physical processes such as
synapse-® ring in the brain, but that they should seek the occurrence of such
mental processes as analysing or translating. Should they not, then, seek to
invoke mental processes?

Talk about mental processes has a logic very di� erent from the logic of
talk about physical processes. Physical processes, such as baking or
synapse-® ring, can, at least in principle, be observed and identi® ed
independently of any product they may have. Mental processes can be
identi® ed only via their products; observing them directly is a logical
impossibility. For example, we suppose that a translating `process’ has
occurred in some person only because the person has succeeded in produ-
cing a translation.

Descriptions of translating and classifying `behaviours’ are not descrip-
tions of behaviours at all, but descriptions of upshots or accomplishments
such as converting poetry to prose. When someone succeeds in such a
conversion there is no doubt that something must have gone on ìn’ that
person which enabled him or her to succeed. To identify this s̀omething’ as
a particular mental process is to assume that the same sort of thing goes on
within a person in every case in which he or she translates something.
There is no reason to suppose this is the case. The so-called `processes’ are
hypothesized, and then rei® ed after the fact of these upshots.

common misconceptions of critical thinking 273

Mental processes are di� erentiated from one another not by observing
features of the processes, but by distinguishing among kinds of upshots or
accomplishments. The number of di� erent kinds of processes we identify
depends upon how we decide to di� erentiate upshots. For some purposes
we may wish to lump them all together. For instance, we may lump
together all of the upshots that represent successful application of conven-
tional meaning rules and standards, and then we might talk of t̀he process’
of translation that all have in common. We may, on the other hand, want to
subdivide student successes on the basis of the di� erent kinds of meaning
conventions they ful® l. In either case, we will be less inclined to reify and
confound categories if we talk about enabling students to ful® l the
conventions and standards rather than about their exercising mysterious
processes presumed to lie behind such accomplishments. No useful ped-
agogical aim is served by postulating such processes.

Regardless of the conceptual hazards, people interested in critical
thinking, and in education in general, are prone to talk about processesÐ
the thinking process, the reading process, the creative process. What makes
this way of characterizing teaching and learning so attractive? In part, the
attraction may arise from the ambiguity of the term `process’. In part, it
may also occur because it seems to o� er a promising answer to the question,
`Are critical thinking abilities transferable?’

Broadly speaking, a process may be any course of events that has an
upshot or a result of some sort. However, there are at least three distinct
ways that courses of events relate to their upshots. In the ® rst instance, they
may relate as that course of events people now call `natural selection’ relates
to its upshot, the evolution of a species. In the second, they may relate as
running a race relates to ® nishing the race. In the third, they may relate as
facing an object relates to noticing it. We may characterize these, for the
sake of convenience, as: (1) process-product, (2) task-achievement, and (3)
orient-reception relations. Process-product pairs are used to pick out
situations in which a series of changes or a particular relation produces
an identi® able upshot. Task-achievement pairs are used to talk about what
people do to bring about upshots. Tasks di� er from other `processes’ in that
tasks are things people do on purpose in an e� ort to succeed at something.
There are doubtless thousands of task words in most natural languages.
Words like l̀ook’, s̀earch’ , r̀ace’ and t̀each’ can all be used as task words.
Their use in this way re¯ ects the fact that many things people seek to
accomplish are di� cult to bring o� . They can try and fail.

Ambiguity in the term `process’ lends a spurious sort of plausibility to
the processes conception of critical thinking because it makes it plausible to
suppose that all upshots of human activity have the same relation to the
activity as products of combustion have to the process of combustion.
Because processes are routinely named after their products, it is natural to
suppose that achievements and receptions must also have corresponding
processes. The result, of course, is unwarranted rei® cationÐ reading back
from outcomes to mysterious antecedent processes.

The process conception is also bolstered by the fact that the same
happening may be spoken of as both a process and a task. When one bakes a
loaf of bread the changes in the loaf may be seen either as a natural function

274 s. bailin ET A L .

of heating and of the chemistry of its constituents, or as what the cook
doesÐ heating the oven to the proper temperature and so on. The same
happenings are, thus, characterized di� erently. Baking, the chemical pro-
cess, is a causal occurrence; baking, the task, is a procedure (or an art)
intended to bring about the chemical process in proper degree, so that the
result is not pasty, or charred, or leaden. Because such words as `baking’
may be ambiguous, it is easy to neglect the di� erence between the process
and the task.

Such reception verbs, as s̀ee’, `notice’ and r̀ealize’ refer to upshots of a
special kind. First, they involve either (or both) our literal perception
apparatuses (eyes, ears, etc.) or our mental abilities. Secondly, although
there are tasks we can carry out to position ourselves to see (e.g. sit where
we can watch the horizon) or prepare ourselves conceptually (e.g. acquire
the concepts of truth and validity), these tasks cannot guarantee that we will
have the desired upshot. As White (1967: 69) puts it:

We can ask someone how he [sic] `would’ discover or cure, but not how he
`would’ notice, although it is as legitimate to ask how he `did’ notice as it is to
ask how he `did’ discover or cure. For the former `how’ question asks for the
method, but the latter for the opportunity. Although appropriate schooling
and practice can put us in a condition to notice what we used to miss, people
cannot be taught nor can they learn how to notice, as they can be taught or
can learn how to detect. Noticing, unlike solving, is not the exercise of a skill.

For those interested in teaching students to become better at critical
thinking, the moral is clear. We cannot teach students the process of
noticing fallacies, for we have no grounds for believing there is such a
process. The most we can do is orient them, and this, it seems, we do in at
least three ways.

� We teach the person certain conceptsÐ for instance, the concept of
a valid argument. This enables them to notice fallacies they would
otherwise have overlookedÐ but does not, of course, guarantee
they will notice them.

� We motivate the person to care that arguments are valid and to be
on the lookout for invalid arguments.

� We teach procedures that enable the person to orient himself or
herself where certain kinds of reception are sought.

The second reason why people become advocates of critical thinking
processes is that they want schools to provide curricula such that students
learn to do certain things across the curriculumÐ and into their non-school
livesÐ abstract, analyse, classify, evaluate, sequence, synthesize, translate,
etc. These `processes’ are believed to be common to all critical thinking
situations and to a range of activities beyond. To educators this means that
in teaching them they can economize on instruction because there will be
transfer of training. Someone who learns the forehand smash in tennis is
likely to learn the forehand smash in squash with less di� culty than a
person novice to both. Are we then to suggest that someone who learns, for
example, to abstract in the writing of a pre cis will be able, because of that
prior learning, to abstract in depicting a house, or that one who is able to

common misconceptions of critical thinking 275

evaluate cars will thereby be able to evaluate hypotheses? What else can we
make of talk of processes as general abilities? Critical thinking situations
may well have common features, but speaking of processes is of no value; it
is, indeed, either otiose or misleading, and we almost certainly risk losing
more than we gain. We risk falling into a monochromatic and wholly
misleading view of the teaching of critical thinking.

Cr i ti c a l th i n ki n g a s p r o c e d u r e s

Another common misconception of critical thinking sees it as basically a
matter of following a general procedure, described usually in terms of a set
of steps, stages or phases. We contend that developing students’ compe-
tence in thinking is not, at heart, dependent on teaching them steps or
procedures to follow. We begin by clarifying what we believe is implied by
those who characterize critical thinking as following step-by-step pro-
cedures. Next, we compare this view with an account of thinking as the
exercise of judgement.

Thinking as procedure

Although there is no consensus about the general procedures that constitute
thinking, the three most frequently discussed are inquiry (i.e. t̀he scienti® c
method’), problem solving, and decision making (Wright 1993). Some
writers refer to critical thinking and creative thinking as separate pro-
cedures (Marzano et al. 1988: 32, Overgaard 1989: 9). By some accounts,
there are as many as eight general thinking procedures: concept formation,
principle formation, comprehension, problem solving, decision making,
research, composition, and oral discourse (Marzano et al. 1988: 32± 33).
Each of these is distinguished by the type of conclusion or result produced
(e.g. clari® cation of a concept, a decision about what course of action to
take). Proponents of thinking as procedure, by de® nition, believe that
procedures are at the heart of promoting thinking.

An important variable in this view of thinking is the formality of the
sequence of steps involved in these general procedures. There is a range of
opinion on this matter, spanning what we will call the algorithmic and the
heuristic views of thinking as procedure. According to Nickerson et al.
(1985: 74), algorithms and heuristics are two types of procedures: an
algorithm is a step-by-step prescription that is guaranteed to accomplish
a particular goal; an heuristic is a procedure that is merely reasonably likely
to yield a solution. Proponents of an algorithmic view of thinking as
procedure hold that: (1) there is a manageable number of highly reliable
procedures that, taken as a whole, can address the range of situations that
students need to resolve, (2) the steps in these procedures form a ® xed
order, and (3) mastery of these steps is the central challenge in learning to
think. Supporters of the heuristic view hold a less stringent set of assump-
tions: (1) there is a potentially large number of procedures helpful across
the range of situations that students need to resolve, (2) the order of the

276 s. bailin ET A L .

steps in these is not ® xed, and (3) mastery of these steps is a pre-eminent,
but not necessarily the only, challenge in learning to think.

Although it is di� cult to ® nd much support for the algorithmic view of
critical thinking, many academics, particularly psychologists, appear to
accept the heuristic view. Thus, after reviewing a representative range of
programmes to promote thinking, Glaser (1984: 96) notes that `most of
these programs place emphasis on the teaching of general processes, general
heuristics and rules for reasoning and problem solving, that might be
acquired as transferable habits of thinking’ . Marzano et al. (1988: 34)
suggest that the procedures should not be taught as `prescribed procedures’
but rather as r̀epertoires or arrays of alternatives’ that are s̀emi-ordered’ or
are `working hypotheses about the best way to accomplish a goal, general
procedures to be used ¯ exibly by teachers and adapted by students’ . For
others, however, the sequence of steps to be followed is more signi® cant
(e.g. Beach 1987: 146± 147).

It is intuitively appealing to describe critical thinking in terms of how
an individual is to go about it. The procedure approach, by reducing
critical thinking to steps, seeks to provide operational or task descriptions
of the building blocks of such thinking. Consider the following exampleÐ
the `Decide Model’ by E. Daniel Eckberg.6 This conception holds or
assumes that critical thinking comprises a set of steps characterized as
follows:

D. De® ne the dilemma
What’s the problem?
Why does it concern me?
What’s the basic issue?

E. Examine electives
What are all sorts of possible ways of solving the problem?
What choices do we have?
What are our alternative courses of action?
What hypothesis can we make?

C. Consider consequences
What happens if we try each choice?
If we do this, then what?
How will things change if I choose this one?
What data can I collect and consider in considering these con-
sequences?

I. Investigate importance
What principles are important to me here?
What things do I most value?
How will these values in¯ uence my choice?
What am I assuming to be true?
What are my preferences and biases?

D. Decide direction
In the light of the data, what’ s my choice?
Which choice should now be chosen?
Which hypothesis seems to be the best?
Based on the evidence, what course of action should I take?

common misconceptions of critical thinking 277

E. Evaluate ends
How can I test my hypothesis?
Was my course of action correct?
What are the consequences of my choice?
Has a tentative hypothesis been proven or disproved?
What are my conclusions?

As one can see, the model attempts to characterize critical thinking as a set
of procedures to be carried out. None of the steps directly raises the
underlying normative questions. Even in asking, `Was my course of action
correct?’, the schema refers to what has been completedÐ a re¯ ection back.
Thus, the fundamentally normative and ongoing nature of critical thinking
is ignored or masked. Critical thinking is not simply a retrospective
undertaking.

It might be suggested that a more appropriate description of the `decide
direction’ step is `make an informed, fair-minded decision’ . We agree, but
this no longer describes a procedure to be performed, rather it identi® es
norms to be ful® lled. As such, it is not characteristic of the procedure view.
Although some educators may use the term s̀tep’ to refer to achievement of
standards, the focus is overwhelmingly on strategies and heuristics. We do
not wish to quibble over conceptual territory; rather we draw attention to
the dominant (possibly, paradigmatic) use of the term s̀tep’ so as to expose
the inadequacies of this view of critical thinking as following general
procedures.

Concerns with t̀hinking as general procedures’

Although we believe that heuristics serve a useful role in learning to think
critically, we do not regard them as the central feature of good thinking:
there are two basic reasons why the general procedures view is an
inadequate way of conceiving of critical thinking. We believe it misrepre-
sents the major obstacle to good thinking, and grossly understates the
signi® cance of contextual factors in deciding how to proceed in any
particular case of critical thinking

On the general procedures view, the performance of certain tasks is seen
to be a highly reliable means of achieving the desired results of thinking.
The educational challenge is, therefore, to equip students with repertoires
of procedures they can employ across the range of thinking situations. In
our view, the mere performance of certain procedures identi® ed in
descriptive terms is insu� cient to ensure that what has happened counts
as critical thinking.

The performance of tasks such as thinking of reasons for and against a
position, or of brainstorming alternatives, does not guarantee that an
individual is thinking critically. The pro and con reasons that the individual
comes up with may address only the most trivial aspects of the issue; so,
too, the brainstorming of alternatives may miss the most sensible alter-
natives. Learning to engage in such activities has little educational merit
unless these things are done in such a way as to ful® l relevant standards of

278 s. bailin ET A L .

adequacy. Students have, after all, performed these sorts of tasks for
much of their lives. The educational goal must be to teach them to
do such tasks well by increasing their capacity and inclination to
make judgements by reference to criteria and standards that distinguish
thoughtful evaluations from sloppy ones, fruitful classi® cation schemes
from trivial ones, and so on. A general procedures approach that does
not teach standards of good thinking is unlikely to sharpen students’
critical judgement. It is for this reason we have suggested that critical
thinking should be characterized not in terms of procedures to be carried
out, but in terms of the standards a performance must ful® l to count as
successful.

Critical thinking is a polymorphous or multi-form enterprise; there
are numerous activities that may be helpful in solving a problem or
reaching a decision. What steps are appropriate is determined both by
the nature of the problem and its context. They are context-bound. For
example, in deciding whether any particular government should
support international military intervention in `civil’ wars, it is hard to
imagine how one set of steps, or any limited set of procedures, could
be appropriate for all such circumstances. Nor could the same sequence
of problem-solving steps usefully be applied both to ® xing a failing
relationship and to ® xing a civil war. Identifying both these situations
as `problems’ masks the very di� erent factors that need to be considered
in deciding what should be done in each case.7 Given the diversity
of problems and problem contexts, we believe that any account of
the steps involved in problem solving or decision making will either be
so vague as to be largely unhelpful, or they will be so speci® c that they
will have little generalizability beyond a speci® c class of problems or
decisions.

To a considerable extent, what we should do in solving a problem is
determined by the standards that must be met for the solution in the
particular case to be successful. In the case of a failing relationship, it may
be lack of honesty with oneself that is the problem. In deciding whether a
government should participate in an international intervention may involve
honesty, but it often involves considering the e� ect on the lives of many
innocentsÐ and very large economic e� ects. Following the decision-making
model listed above may simply be an occasion to rationalize the self-
deception that gave rise to the personal problem in the ® rst placeÐ or the
international problem in the ® rst place. Nurturing open-mindedness may
be the only s̀tep’ needed to repair this situation

We are not claiming that teaching about general procedures is a com-
pletely inappropriate way to promote critical thinking. Rather, we empha-
size that the e� ectiveness of any procedure depends on its e� cacy in
helping students meet the relevant standards for good thinking: there are
no inherent or highly reliable connections between learning to think well
and performing particular operations. Put another way, what drives
increased competence in thinking is greater mastery of the standards for
judging an appropriate tack to take in a particular context, not learning pre-
programmed, supposedly generalizable, procedures.

common misconceptions of critical thinking 279

Cr i ti c a l th i n ki n g a n d th e p e d a g o g y o f p r a c ti c e

We have reviewed three conceptions of critical thinking: skills, processes,
and procedures. All three have been used to promote the idea that
competence in thinking critically is gained primarily through practice.
Thus, although we will focus in this section on the skills-conception as a
source of the pedagogy of practice, we could just as well focus on either the
process or the procedures view. Nickerson et al. (1985) discuss learning
thinking skills as analogous to two ways of learning physical skillsÐ one
when a person practises a particular skill to strengthen it; the other where,
by appropriately directing intellectual energy, teachers replace the novice’ s
ine� cient movements with more e� cient ones. Practice is seen as exercis-
ing the skills of critical thinking so that improvement will take place.
Students may, for example, be given frequent opportunities to make
comparisons in a variety of domains so that the s̀kill of comparing’ will
be exercised, and this aspect of critical thinking improved. We contend,
however, that critical thinking is not promoted simply through the repeti-
tion of s̀kills’ of thinking, but rather by developing the relevant knowledge,
commitments and strategies and, above all, by coming to understand what
criteria and standards are relevant. Repetition does indeed have some role
to play, but only if it takes place in the context of the development of such
knowledge, criteria, commitments and strategies.

The main assumption underpinning the practice view is that critical
thinking consists of a variety of discrete skills that can be improved through
repetition. On this view critical thinking skills are analogous to skills in an
athletic endeavour such as soccer, where it is possible to practise kicking,
heading the ball, passing, etc., and to develop skill at each of these
constituent activities independently of ever playing a football game. One
repeats the skill until it has become routinized and one no longer needs to
apply conscious attention to its execution.

However, this is not an appropriate model for what is involved in
becoming better at critical thinking. Unlike athletic skill, skill in critical
thinking cannot be separated from understanding the nature and purpose of
the task one is attempting to accomplish.8 Becoming better at comparing,
for example, involves learning to make comparisons according to relevant
criteria, making comparisons which are appropriate to the particular
circumstances, comparing with a view to the reason the comparison is
being made, and so on.

We argued earlier that critical thinking cannot be characterized in terms
of speci® c mental processes, and that there are no good grounds for
supposing that terms like comparing, classifying and inferring denote
generic mental processes which one can improve through repetition.
Here, we emphasize that all aspects of critical thinking centrally involve
judgement, and judgement cannot be made routine. Scheƒ er (1965: 103)
makes this point with reference to chess:

critical skills call for strategic judgement and cannot be rendered automatic.
To construe the learning of chess as a matter of drill would thus be quite
wrong-headed in suggesting that the same game be played over and over

280 s. bailin ET A L .

again, or intimating that going through the motions of playing repeatedly
somehow improves one’s game. What is rather supposed, at least in the case
of chess, is that improvement comes about through development of strategic
judgement, which requires that such judgement be allowed opportunity to
guide choices in a wide variety of games, with maximal opportunity for
evaluating relevant outcomes and re¯ ecting upon alternative principles and
strategy in the light of such evaluation.

An examination of those areas where practice is helpfulÐ for example
artistic performanceÐ makes evident that useful practice involves far more
than mere repetition. Practising the piano is not simply a matter of
continually repeating a piece in the same manner, but rather of being
alert to and attempting to correct errors and continually striving for
improvement according to the standards of quality performance. Dewey
(1964: 201) makes the point that simply sawing a bow across violin strings
will not make a violinist.

It is a certain quality of practice, not mere practice, which produces the
expert and the artist. Unless the practice is based upon rational principles,
upon insights into facts and their meaning, èxperience’ simply ® xes incorrect
acts into wrong habits.

Howard (1982: 161, 162) also maintains that practice is not mere repetition,
but claims that it is, rather, repetition which is g̀uided by speci® c aims
such as solving various kinds of problems’ or ìmproving acquired skills’ ,
and ìn accord with some . . . criteria of performance’ which enable one to
judge the level of mastery of the activity. Thus, he states:

Rather than mechanically duplicating a passage, one strives for particular
goals, say, of ¯ uency, contrast, or balance. Successive repeats re¯ ect a drive
toward such goals rather than passive absorption of a sequence of motor acts.

The question arises at this point as to how critical thinking can best be
developed and what role practice plays in this development. We have
argued that what characterizes thinking which is critical is the quality of the
reasoning. Thus, in order to become a (more) critical thinker one must
understand what constitutes quality reasoning, and have the commitments
relevant to employing and seeking quality reasoning. The knowledge
necessary for such understanding includes background knowledge relevant
to the context in question, knowledge of the principles and standards of
argumentation and inquiry, both in general and in specialized areas,
knowledge of critical concepts, and knowledge of relevant strategies and
heuristics. The kinds of habits of mind, commitments or sensitivities
necessary for being a critical thinker include such things as open-mind-
edness, fair-mindedness, the desire for truth, an inquiring attitude and a
respect for high-quality products and performances. Thus, fostering criti-
cal thinking would involve the development of such knowledge and
commitments.

A variety of means may be employed to promote such development,
including direct instruction, teacher modelling, creation of an educational
environment where critical inquiry is valued and nurtured, and provision
for students of frequent opportunities to think critically about meaningful

common misconceptions of critical thinking 281

challenges with appropriate feedback. Practice may also have a role to play,
but it must be understood that it is not practice in the sense of a simple
repetition of a skill, process or procedure. Rather such practice presupposes
the kind of knowledge outlined above, and involves the development of
critical judgement through applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts.
It also involves attempts on the part of the learner to improve according to
speci® c criteria of performance, and frequent feedback and evaluation with
respect to the quality of thinking demonstrated.

N o te s

1. See, for example, Presseisen (1986).
2. Some examples are Worsham and Stockton (1986) and Beyer (1991).
3. One fairly recent example of the use of this tripartite division of goals is to be found in

British Columbia Ministry of Education (1991a, b).
4. It is, of course, a category mistake to talk about `doing’ processes; processes happen;

people do not do them.
5. One which comes close to this is found in a document produced by a Canadian Ministry

of Education (British Columbia Ministry of Education 1991b: 15) which refers to
t̀hirteen thinking operations: observation, comparing, classifying, making hypotheses,
imagining . . . ’ .

6. The `Decide Model’ is used in an introductory text on economic reasoning (described in
Mackey 1977: 410).

7. According to Mackey (1977: 408) problem solving is t̀he application of an organized
method of reasoning to a di� cult, perplexing or bewildering situation’.

8. This is not to deny that many activities, such as football, deeply involveÐ in addition to
skillsÐ critical thinking.

R e fe r e n c e s

BARROW, R. (1991) The generic fallacy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 23 (1), 7± 17.
BEACH, R. (1987) Strategic teaching in literature. In B. F. Jones, A. S. Palincsar, D. S. Ogle

and E. G. Carr (eds), S trategic Teaching and L earning: Cognitive Instruction in the
Content Areas (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development), 135± 159.

BEYER, B. K. (1987) Practical S trategies for the Teaching of Thinking (Boston: Allyn &
Bacon).

BEYER, B. K. (1991) Teaching Thinking Skills: A Handbook for Elementary S chool Teachers
(Boston: Allyn & Bacon).

BRITISH COLUMBIA MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (1991a) Thinking in the Classroom (Resources for
Teachers), V olume One: The Context for Thoughtful L earning (Victoria, BC:
Assessment, Examinations, and Reporting Branch, Ministry of Education and
Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Human Rights).

BRITISH COLUMBIA MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (1991b) Thinking in the Classroom (Resources
for Teachers), V olume Two: Experiences that Enhance Thoughtful L earning (Victoria,
BC: Assessment, Examinations, and Reporting Branch, Ministry of Education and
Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Human Rights).

CHUSKA, K. R. (1986) Teaching the Process of Thinking, K-12, Fastback 244 (Bloomington,
IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation).

DEWEY, J. (1964) What psychology can do for the teacher. In R. D. Archambault (ed.), John
Dewey on Education: Selected Writings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 195±
211.

282 s. bailin ET A L .

ENNIS, R. H. (1987) A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In J. B. Baron
and R. J. Sternberg (eds), Teaching Thinking S kills: Theory and Practice (New York:
Freeman), 9± 26.

FACIONE, P. A. (1990) Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of
educational assessment and instruction: Research ® ndings and recommendations (The
Delphi Report). Prepared for the Committee on Pre-College Philosophy of the
American Philosophical Association. ERIC ED 315 423.

GLASER, R. (1984) Education and thinking: the role of knowledge. American Psychologist, 39
(2), 93± 104.

HOWARD, V. A. (1982) Artistry: The Work of Artists (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).
KIRBY, D. and KUYKENDALL, C., 1991, Mind Matters: Teaching for Thinking (Portsmouth,

NH: Boynton/Cook).
MACKEY, J. (1977) Three problem-solving models for the elementary classroom. S ocial

Education, 41 (5), 408± 410.
MARZANO, R. J., BRANDT, R. S., HUGHES, C. S., JONES, B. F., PRESSEISEN, B. Z., RANKIN,

C. S. and SUHOR, C. (1988) Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework for Curriculum and
Instruction (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development).

MCPECK, J. E. (1981) Critical Thinking and Education (Oxford: Martin Robertson).
NICKERSON, R. S., PERKINS, D. N. and SMITH, E. E., 1985, The Teaching of Thinking

(Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum).
OVERGAARD, V. (1989) Focus on thinking: Towards developing a common understanding. In

R. W. Marx (ed.), Curriculum: Towards Developing a Common Understanding: A
Report to the British Columbia Ministry of Education (Vancouver, BC: Vancouver
School District), 5± 34.

PAUL, R. W. (1982) Teaching critical thinking in the strong sense: a focus on self-deception,
world views, and dialectical mode of analysis. Informal L ogic, 4 (2), 2± 7.

PAUL, R. W. (1984) Critical thinking: fundamental to education for a free society. Educational
L eadership, 42 (1), 4± 14.

PRESSEISEN, B. Z. (1986) Critical Thinking and Thinking Skills: S tate-of-the-Art De® nitions
and Practice in Public S chools (Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools).

SCHEFFLER, I. (1965) Conditions of Knowledge: An Introduction to Epistemology and
Education (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman).

SIEGEL, H. (1988) Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education (New
York: Routledge).

WHITE, A. R. (1967) T he Philosophy of Mind (New York: Random House).
WORSHAM, A. M. and STOCKTON, A. J. (1986) A Model for Teaching Thinking Skills: The

Inclusion Process, Fastback 236 (Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa).
WRIGHT, I. (1993) Inquiry, problem-solving, and decision making in elementary social studies

methods textbooks. Journal of S ocial Studies Research, 16± 17 (1), 26± 32.

common misconceptions of critical thinking 283