What Is It, Really?

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines a fact as a thing that is known or proved to be true. Fiction refers to something that is invented or untrue. As for opinion, it is a view or judgment formed about something, though not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. To distinguish facts, fiction and opinions, the first step is to know where such content can appear on the internet.

Counterfeit websites At first glance, counterfeit websites may look legitimate, as if created by official, authentic sources, but they are aimed at spreading false information or furthering malicious views and biased opinions. One example of a counterfeit website is www.martinlutherking.org. In truth, it is a racist and biased site run by a white supremacist group in the United States, disseminating hateful views about Martin Luther King, Jr., the African–American civil rights leader, to unsuspecting students.

MLK Fake Site

Parody websites Parody sites make fun of what happens in the real world. The Onion and The Daily Mash, for example, are parody news sites. Run by legitimate media companies, these sites may mimic real news media but offer humorous satirical news for entertainment. Although satire is most of the time quite obvious, people not in the know– even other news organizations– may mistake some of such news to be real.

Product websites Some sites selling products or services may look like they are providing good, useful information on topics such as disease, health and well-being, but in reality they may be selective about the facts, omitting that which is contradictory and may affect sales. Others may not be upfront – they may try to exploit your anxieties and insecurities and convince you of the evidence before revealing that they are selling products or services, such as medicines and health treatment programs that purport to solve your problems.

Photos and videos, posts and statuses Fake content in photos and videos can be staged, or created using image-editing or visual effects software, while false information and myths on anything, from Facebook privacy to cancer cures, can be easily created or spread as posts and statuses.The creators intend these as hoaxes or sensationalism or to mislead and further their agendas. They can often be found circulating in social media as they are shocking, sensationalized or capitalize on people’s fears; sometimes mainstream media may mistakenly pick them up too. Telling fake from real can sometimes be hard unless you subject the content to close analysis and cross-checking.

Wiki sites Sites run on wiki, a type of web application that allows people to collaborate on content, can be changed by anyone. One example is Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia. Wiki’s open nature means that wiki content can be vandalized or altered unnoticed; its reliability cannot be taken at face value.

News and opinions Take any piece of writing – be it from a newspaper or a blog – and you may find that it contains both facts and opinions. News stories, though meant to be neutral, often also contain opinions, such as in the quotes of interviewees and commentators. On the other hand, essays, reviews, and marketing copy are meant to be persuasive and sell a point of view; their writers may choose to reflect only facts that support their opinions. Unethical writers may even resort to lies or half-truths.