Can you spot fake news in the time of COVID-19?

Librarians provide tips, tricks to assist students, campus community in identifying fake news related to COVID-19

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Can you spot fake news in the time of COVID-19?

Librarians provide tips, tricks to assist students, campus community in identifying fake news related to COVID-19

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Many news articles are posted daily, updating media consumers with COVID-19 related information. Several of the articles are real, fact-based stories, but some contain false information. In times of a pandemic it’s important for media consumers to be able to determine between real and fake information in a dynamic, rapidly changing 24-hour news cycle. The University Libraries offers resources to teach students, faculty and members of the campus community how to tell if an article has correct information.

There are many different forms of “fake news” that can occur in articles, videos, and on social media. For example, a news article is published about a fake cure for COVID-19. This article is shared across the Internet and social media, and additional new articles are then published and shared. Suddenly, the information is everywhere, only later to be revealed that the information was not true. How would a person know whether or not that information was factual in the first place?

This is where the University Libraries expert  subject librarians come in. Subject librarians have specific areas of expertise and are trained information literacy experts. They know how to spot fake news and are always available to help students find and verify the credible sources they need for their academic work, or for personal areas of interest.

Information literacy is the set of integrating abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.

Students can contact or make an appointment with their subject librarian through the “Find Your Librarian” tab on the University Libraries website.


Teresa Schultz
Teresa Schultz, social sciences librarian for the University Libraries

“We have resources to help teach students how to think critically about what they read in the news as well as do their own fact-checking,” said Teresa Schultz, social sciences librarian for the University Libraries. “We librarians love helping students analyze what they read, whether it’s a scholarly article for a class assignment or the next big meme on Instagram.”

The University Libraries offers many databases including OneSearch that allows anyone with an active University NetID to search for scholarly articles.

“Fake news has social and emotional dimensions,” added Schultz. “People respond to information emotionally first and cognitively second. Just because a person sees a news story appear on their Facebook feed doesn’t mean that it’s reliable.”

When looking at an article a person should evaluate who wrote the item and consider what biases they might have. It’s also smart to look and see if the article has any evidence to support their claims.

“Consider your source. Is the source a legitimate news outlet?,” said Georgia Grundy, member of the Libraries Outreach Committee and library technician for the University Libraries. “There have been several fake cures and offers of home testing for COVID-19 online and in social media. When confronting a threat like COVID-19 having incorrect information can be deadly to you or others.”


Georgia Grundy
Georgia Grundy, member of the Libraries Outreach Committee and library technician for the University Libraries

“Students should utilize the University Libraries resources because resources from the library have been vetted by experts,” added Grundy. “Research librarians and staff are still available to help students locate and evaluate quality research sources.”

At the University of Nevada, Reno each academic department has its own assigned subject area librarian. These librarians are available to assist with research needs and they provide personalized, one-on-one assistance. They also offer guidance about topics such as academic posters, copyright, online publishing, author reputation, open educational resources, data management, systematic reviews, scholarly metrics, and open access journals. 

“We’re here to help, even when we’re off campus,” said Schultz. “You can send your librarian an email or even schedule an online Zoom appointment. We are here to support students during this time. The on-campus community may look different at the moment, but we are continuing to build community virtually while supporting academic and personal student success”

Schultz also suggests members of the community use fact checking resource websites like Snopes to help best determine between real and fake news.

About the University Libraries

The University Libraries embrace intellectual inquiry and innovation, nurture the production of new knowledge, and foster excellence in learning, teaching and research.  During each academic year, the Libraries welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors across its network of three branch libraries: the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library and the Savitt Medical Library. Visitors checked-out more than 80,000 items and completed more than 2 million database searches.

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