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New handbook helps to counter an age of fake news: podcast

The phenomenon of "fake news"’ has been around since journalism first began, but the term itself and the power it can now yield has been linked with the ascendency of Donald Trump, threats to democracy and a post-truth world where facts – in some circles at least – don’t seem to matter.

But now a powerful new tool exists to combat either misinformation or disinformation – the Debunking Handbook 2020. Penned by Dr Eryn Newman from the Australia National University, as well as 21 other prominent scholars, the handbook aims to “inoculate” citizens, teachers and students against misleading information before it’s encountered.

The handbook is informed by both science and psychology, and provides a host of definitions (e.g. disinformation versus misinformation) as well as concise explanations about why "fake news" tends to stick. One of the most common explanations involves familiarity: the more an individual encounters false information, the more inclined they are to believe it.

The handbook also contains a step-by-step guide for encountering fake news, which can provide teachers and students with a formulaic way to confidently refute the veracity of a piece of information. Another valuable section focuses on lateral searches for the truth - that is, expanding one's truth-finding exercise from one source to many.

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