It’s possible that confusion over what is real and fabricated online has never been more acute.
Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump has dismissed news reports which displease him as “fake news,” attacking outlets such as CNN and the New York Times.
Confusingly, the term has also been applied to other news outlets at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, some of which support Trump.
Just in time to help save readers from a possibly embarrassing misapplication of a “fake news” hash tag, the Toronto Public Library has assembled a handy guide to help online readers decipher legitimate news from news that is indeed fake.
“We got some inspiration from some other guides we saw soon after the U.S. elections,” said librarian and online communications lead Mabel Ho. “The guide itself is targeted for Toronto residents and also for our staff as well.”
Ho said it’s a natural fit for the library to issue a guide that helps people asses the quality of information they’re seeing online.
“The library has always been a place for people to get facts,” she said.
While the library hasn’t noticed a spike in confused patrons, helping people understand the difference between authoritative and questionable sources of information online is an ongoing effort, according to Ho.
“We’ve all come across something at one point that we’ve fallen for as well, so it’s not always something that’s easy for people to figure out,” she said. “It’s not something we’re seeing more of, but it is something that’s common – for people to see something and assume that it’s the real thing.”
Appropriately title “How to Spot Fake News,” the library’s guide offers definitions for fake news, tips for assessing whether an article is likely real or fake, links to reliable fact-checking sites and further library resources.
 “We’ve made it pretty easy to use,” Ho said. “So that they (users) can first and foremost understand what fake news is and then how you can spot it.”
The guide compliments courses the library offers for new digital users and aims to help fill a gap that Ho acknowledges exists in digital literacy.  
“We want to encourage Toronto residents to be more thoughtful and critical when they’re looking at those information sources,” Ho said.
To that end, the Toronto reference Library will also be offering an event on digital literacy in June with media scholar Tim Woo and BuzzFeed Media Editor Craig Silverman.
“Digital literacy is definitely one of those things we’re behind in and we want to encourage more of,” Ho said.
The Toronto Public Library’s guide to fake news can be found at