Professor compiles list of fake, misleading ‘news’ websites

Updated: Nov. 15, 2016 at 6:54 PM EST
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(WTVM) - An assistant professor's list of fake and misleading websites, many of which have driven the dialogue of politics this election season, is going viral after being published this week.

Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communications at Merrimack College in North Andover, MA, published the list Monday that's currently being shared across social media by students, non-students and journalists alike.

Zimdars says she was inspired to create the list for two reasons. The first was out of concern for the sources her students cited. The second was the constant sharing of these types of stories being shared on Facebook.

"Facebook has become an echo chamber reinforcing particular news stories and ideas, many of which may be hyperbolic or misleading, rather than a place for coming across a diversity of viewpoints and opinions," Zimdars said via email.

Zimdars says that people seek out this content out of frustration of "the mainstream media," or the media at-large.

"I think many of us turn toward these 'alternative' news sources because we are frustrated with aspects of traditional, mainstream news, whether because of corporate bias or political bias, but many of these alternative websites only make the problem worse," Zimdars continued. "I think there is a lot of good, critical journalism out there, but we now have to wade through a lot of garbage to find it."

The websites "rely on 'outrage' by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits."

Zimdars speaks on the theory called "confirmation bias," where a reader will seek information that coincides the most with one's beliefs and viewpoints.

"These kind of websites prey on this tendency and foster outrage, which drives us further apart rather than together - and makes the websites a great deal of money in the process," Zimdars said.

Zimdars said she was very careful about including "problematic sources from both sides of the aisle" because it is a problem for all political associations and ideologies.

The list comes as both Facebook and Google have announced that they are curbing the searchability of phony news across their platforms. Google said they would stop fake and misleading websites from utilizing the company's ad-selling software, stopping their revenue.

Twitter also announced Tuesday that it would update its "mute" function for users to hide content they do not want to see.

Zimdars says is is reviewing hundreds of other websites and news organizations, including the popular Huffington Post, as she continues to update her list.

For the full list, click here.

RELATED: Google also gets fooled by fake election news

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