Fact, Fiction, or Fake News: How Can You Be More Responsible For The Information You Consume?

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2022 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Arts and Letters | Faculty/Staff | Students | Pressroom

Macon, GA


We are all quite familiar with the phrase “fake news” at this point. The catchphrase raises some questions. How can you tell if something being reported is fake? What can consumers do to protect themselves against misinformation? We spoke to Dr. Andre Nicholson, an #MGA associate professor of media and communication, about being responsible news consumers.

What exactly is fake news?

Fake news is, simply, false information presented as real news. The phrase “fake news” began trending in 2016 during a contentious presidential election, and although the phrase itself is not new, it became a viral social media movement that continues today. But, to understand this phenomenon we should also look back at the history of false news, e.g. the tabloid magazines in the grocery store checkout line. This type of storytelling has been part of our culture since 1926 when the National Enquirer, which started as the “New York Evening Enquirer”, became famous for its sensationalized style of reporting.

The problem with the phrase “fake news” is that it has been used to discredit the mainstream media. It has been justifiably used to label the intentional, inaccurate reporting of news. But, it has also been weaponized by politicians and other officials to insult journalists, and by other consumers who do not want to hear what is being reported because it conflicts with their opinions, values, and beliefs. Labeling information as “fake” simply because it does not fit into one’s own narrative or because a few out of thousands made some mistakes, is dangerous and wrong. What if I decided not to pursue my education because I disagreed with a few of my professors in my undergraduate program, and went on a rampage that no one should pursue an education or believe anything their professors say? The majority of people would question my logic and sanity and probably try to convince me otherwise. So, why should we allow a small segment of our population to discredit an entire field of professionals – journalists - who are often the only ones to shed light on an issue, either good or bad?

A 2017 study by Harvard researchers explained that there are a few contributing factors to why people believe news that could be considered fake news. First, people tend to trust information they acquire from a familiar source or from sources that align with their own worldview. Second, people are biased in their search for information. Consumers will seek out information that confirms what they already believe. Finally, people are skeptical and critical of new information when it presents an opposing perspective or comes from an unfamiliar source. Unfortunately, they will often ignore this new information.

How can you identify fake news?

There are quite a few ways to tell whether information is fake or not. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Pay attention to the URL. Domains with URLs such as “.com.co” should raise a red flag in your mind.
  • Read beyond the headline if it allows you to do so without clicking again. The headlines of fake news articles are often just clickbait. The headline has nothing to do with the actual article. Another way around clicking on an article that could be possible clickbait or fake news is to read the comments first.
  • If you are reading a story, pay particular attention to the quotes. If an official or professional is quoted, take a minute to Google them and check their legitimacy.
  • Lastly, if an article is accompanied by an image, you can do a reverse image search. Right click on the image and scroll down to “Search an Image with Google Lens”. It may or may not be an option on your computer or device. If the image appears in several stories on varying topics, it’s a good chance the article is fake news.

Is there a way to categorize information?

I think understanding how information is categorized can be helpful in understanding the intent behind the message or report. In an advisory statement from the Public Relations Society of America, they offer some distinction between the types of information:

  • Misinformation is false information that is not necessarily created with negative intent.
  • Disinformation is false information that is specifically created to confuse, misinform, and harm a person or group.
  • Malinformation is information based on reality but created deliberately to inflict harm on a person or group.

Each of these definitions raises concerns about the types of information being distributed because information that misinforms or deliberately misleads consumers undermines our ability to make informed decisions. Managing false information isn’t new; however, digital media and the speed at which things can go viral make the effects far reaching with potentially devastating impact. So, it is imperative that consumers arm themselves with some news media literacy tools.

How can we protect ourselves from fake news and misinformation?

There are several things consumers can do to become more media and news savvy. I suggest they R.E.A.D.:

  • R = Research – do your due diligence when it comes to the sources of information you’re consuming. Look for opposing sides to an issue, just to understand what others are saying that might go against your own personal beliefs. Try this with one mainstream controversial issue being reported and explore opposing views.
  • E = Evaluate yourself. Take a moment to reflect on why you believe or feel a certain way, about a certain issue. Is it possible that what we have believed to be true for so long, is based on false information?
  • A = Ask others. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with others about controversial topics, particularly issues circulating either in the mainstream media or in pop culture that you believe to be fake news. Creating a healthy dialogue is a win for everyone.
  • D = Disengage from social media for a while. Sometimes we just need a mental break. Take 2-3 days and disengage from logging into your social media accounts and allow yourself to recharge from information overload.

Lastly, there are a few fact-checking resources that are fairly popular and creditable. Factcheck.org monitors commentary from politicians. Snopes.com fact checks on multiple topics, and Media Bias/Fact Check at https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ has nearly 5,000 media sources and journalists in their database and are considered a comprehensive media bias resource.


Dr. Andre Nicholson is an associate professor of media and communication in MGA’s School of Arts and Letters - Department of Media, Culture, and the Arts. He earned his Ph.D. from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 2012 after serving 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a journalist. He has been with MGA for 10 years and has been involved with numerous activities and committees on campus. He recently received the 2022 faculty award for Excellence in Service.