Fake news websites
The internet has given everyone a voice, but that doesn't mean you should listen to all of them.iStock

The spread of fake online news has itself been hitting headlines in recent weeks, with accusations flying that such content may have helped sweep Donald Trump into the White House.

Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communications and media at Massachusetts's Merrimack College, has created a list of websites as a teaching resource for her students, which categorises websites and organisations that publish "false, misleading, clickbait-y, and/or satirical 'news' sources."

The list of over 135 sites has been uploaded to the web as a public Google Docs file, and breaks them down by four categories.

  • Category 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some may rely on "outrage" by using distorted headlines and decontextualised or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
  • Category 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information.
  • Category 3: Websites that sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions.
  • Category 4: Sources that are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news.

A few obvious inclusions on the original version of the list, which has undergone subsequent edits, are the likes of The Onion under category 4, Upworthy under category 3, and InfoWars under category 1.

However, the list also included mainstream news sources such as US-based Breitbart under categories 2 and 3. Breitbart's former chairman Stephen Bannon has been chosen by Trump to serve as his chief strategist. UK investigative publication Private Eye was also listed for its deployment of satirical content, category 4.

Whether or not fake and misleading news has an influential effect on readers, or particularly on voters in the US election, is debatable. However, the task at hand is to weed out this misinformation and stop it propagating online. This is no easy job when you consider the sheer volume of websites, social media accounts and blogs all fighting to make themselves heard over the internet's perpetual din.

Zimdars points out that websites that end in .com.co are often fake websites masquerading as reliable sources. AnonNews.co, MSNBC.com.co, and DrudgeReport.com.co all make the list. Equally, odd domain names, bad web design and overuse of the caps lock should be considered red flags when trying to determine a website's trustworthiness.

The list of websites spotted by Motherboard can be found below. To avoid falling foul of such outlets, Zimdar offers the following advice for news-hungry netizens: "It's always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources... vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualise information with other sources.

"Even typically reliable sources, whether mainstream or alternative, corporate or non-profit, rely on particular media frames to report stories and select stories based on different notions of newsworthiness. The best thing to do in our contemporary media environment is to read/watch/listen widely and often, and to be critical of the sources we share and engage with on social media."

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