Media Literacy & Misinformation: Getting Started

Learn how to recognize and prevent misinformation and discover where your news comes from.

What is Media Literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. It's an essential life skill that empowers you to be both a critical thinker and an effective communicator.

Media literacy is just one branch of the literacy tree

Sources: The National Association for Media Literacy Education, the University of Iowa Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology & Project Look Sharp.

What is "Fake News"?

Fake news itself comes in a variety of flavors:

  • Pure fake news sites use fabricated stories to lure traffic, encourage clicks (click bait), influence or profit using intentionally deceptive, but highly intriguing, often sensational information.

  • Hoax sites also share false information with the intention to trick readers/viewers

  • Satirical sites present news with a comical, often exaggerated spin

  • Born digital images and edited images alter and often misrepresent visual reality

Source: School Library Journal

More definitions

In their 2017 study "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election," Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow define "Fake News" as "news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers." They also delineate several "close cousins":

  • unintentional reporting mistakes
  • rumors that do not originate from a particular news article
  • conspiracy theories
  • satire
  • false statements by politicians
  • reports that are slanted or misleading but not outright false

Use the tools in this guide to develop your own definition!

Types of Mis- and Disinformation

Satire or Parody - Content has no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool.

False Connection - Headlines or visuals don't support assertions of content.

Misleading Content - Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual.

False Context - Genuine content is shared with false contextual information.

Imposter Content - Genuine sources are impersonated.

Manipulated Content - Genuine information is manipulated in order to deceive.

Fabricated Content - New content is false, and is designed to deceive and do harm.

Source: Claire Wardle, Brown University Futures Lab 

Misinformation vs. Disinformation

The terms "misinformation" and "disinformation" are all over the news. The terms are similar in that they both denote information that's false. However, they are not interchangeable!

Misinformation - False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive. Source: Oxford English Dictionary

Disinformation - False information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media. Source: Oxford English Dictionary


Truth Matters



"The problem is not that some people might believe something that’s not true. The problem is that most people might stop caring if anything is true."

- Siva Vaidhyanathan, Director, University of Virginia Center for Media & Citizenship 

Spotting "Fake News"


Google It?

Media & the "Filter Bubble"

Social media and technology have changed the way we access the news. Many of us get our news from our social media feeds rather than directly from journalists.

Social media news feeds use algorithms to show us posts that align with our opinions and interests. That means we usually see news articles that confirm our own viewpoints. This phenomenon is called the "filter bubble."

"The downside channels [e.g.YouTube, Instagrampresent information to people most likely to believe them.”  - Renee DiResta, Stanford Internet Observatory


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Lisa Iannucci
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Subjects: Gender Studies

"Fake News" is a Concern

In their 2017 study, Allcott & Gentzkow isolate potential social costs to the production and dissemination of "fake news":

  • Decline of “trust and confidence” in the mass media
  • Less accurate beliefs about current events
  • Difficulty in distinguishing between legitimate news and “fake news”
  • Increased skepticism of legitimate news sources
  • Reduced demand for accurate, low-bias reporting
  • Fewer incentives for news outlets to invest in accurate reporting
  • Undermining of the democratic process

Further Reading

Amarasingam, Amarnath (Ed.) (2011). The Stewart/Colbert effect: essays on the real impacts of fake news. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Caulfield, Mike (2017). Web literacy for student fact-checkers.

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall & Brooks Jackson (2007). unSpun: Finding facts in a world of disinformation. New York: Random House.

Kovach, Bill & Tom Rosenstiel (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in an age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury USA.

Levitin, Daniel (2016). A Field guide to lies: critical thinking in the information age. New York: Dutton.

Sharot, Tali (2017). The Influential mind: What the brain reveals about our power to change others. New York: Henry Holt.

Stebbins, Leslie F. (2015). Finding reliable information online: Adventures of an information sleuth. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.