The West Virginia Library Commission has created a collection of educational videos related to fake news. In an age when journalists, reporters, and media cannot be trusted, the ability to inspect and interpret information is critical.

This eight-part series teaches skills not only for spotting fake news, but also spotting lies, manipulation tactics, and how to respond to and deflate them.

The Burden of Proof -

When you are trying to prove a point during a conversation, you need to provide reasons why it is true. To gain authority, you must provide evidence. This requirement is known as the burden of proof, and it comes into play in courts of law, political debates, and even casual conversations.

Sometimes people make points without evidence or say something hard to prove wrong. But failing to meet the burden of proof deflates credibility. It’s important to provide evidence and ask others to do the same. Learn when the burden of proof is required and what to do when someone tries to evade it.

The Ad Hominem Attack -

Have you ever been on the losing end of an argument and been tempted to resort to name-calling? Making irrelevant comments about an opponent’s character or circumstances is a common debate strategy known as an ad hominem attack.

While ad hominem can be a legitimate response, it is often a diversion tactic meant to hide a weak counter-argument. Being able to spot ad hominem attacks and determine their use can help you identify credible resources and improve your communication skills.

Correlation and Causation -

Did you know there’s a connection between the revenue generated by arcades and the number of PhDs awarded in computer science? Or between iPhone sales and people who died by falling down the stairs?  Or between the shape of the northern border of Kentucky and the sale of houseplants? Believe it or not, there are no connections between any of these variables except that they happen to plot the same way on a graph. They’re all examples of correlations, not causations, and while they’re humorous, confusing correlation with causation can have serious effects on your ability to analyze information.

Confirmation Bias -

Humans have a tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs. Social media algorithms do the same, showing us posts, ads, friends, and information that aligns with our own usage, likes, posts, and contributions. This is why, when we seek out research or information to support our side of a story, we'll find it -- right or wrong.

The Straw Man -

Have you ever been in the middle of a debate and felt like your words or ideas were being used in a way you didn’t intend? Or, the conversation gets so twisted you’re not sure what the original idea is. It can quickly turn a debate into an argument, especially on topics where emotions run high, like politics or social issues. Twisting an idea or position so it’s easier to argue against is called a straw man fallacy. Straw man arguments can seem convincing, but they’re actually poor reasoning. It can be hard to avoid straw man arguments. But engaging with a topic fairly and accurately helps refine your own positions and connect better with others.

Loaded Questions -

Have you ever felt trapped by a question because you'd look bad whether you said "yes" or "no"? These loaded questions are often used by journalists and politicians. Questions like, “Have you stopped accepting bribes?” have presumptions built into them so they can’t be answered without looking guilty. And they can be misleading when they suggest things that aren’t true. Knowing how to deal with loaded questions can help you focus on facts and improve communication.

Lateral and Vertical Reading -

Different sources of information require different reading strategies. Slow, thorough reading might work for print sources, but it doesn’t work for online sources—especially when they are fake, misleading, or trying to get you to buy into an idea without thinking too hard or digging too deep.  Learn about lateral reading, a strategy for analyzing online information that results in reading less, but learning more.

Command+Control+F -

Have you ever dreaded reading a long research article? Have you shared a headline without reading the full text because it came from a news agency or friend you trust?

It’s good practice to read carefully, but it takes time. And whether you’re deep in a research project or trying to keep up with social media, time can seem like it’s in short supply.

There may not be time to deeply read everything you come across. But the Command/Control F function is a great shortcut to quickly determine if an article matches its headline, an argument matches its social media post, or research matches your needs.