Evaluating Sources: Fact Checking Online Sources

How do you determine which online sources to trust?

Evaluating the quality of online sources is different from evaluating print or peer-reviewed sources. This is because print and peer-reviewed sources have vetting processes built into their publishing models, while most online sources don’t. As propaganda peddlers, partisan players, and sponsored content creators get more sophisticated in their design and presentation of “facts”, it is becoming more difficult to determine which online sources to trust. That said, here are some strategies you can use to evaluate the credibility of sources you find online and on social media.

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Check your emotions: Content that evokes a strong emotional response is more likely to go viral regardless if it is true or not. Don't read or share content until you know what it is and where it came from.

Determine your purpose: How you plan to use the information will inform how much fact checking is necessary.

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Identify who created the information:  It's not enough to trust a website because of its formatting or domain name, you need to know who is behind the information you read online and if they can be trusted.

Read laterally to verify credibility: To verify trustworthiness, seek out what others are saying about your source. Leave the website and leverage the collective knowledge of the internet in order to learn more about it.

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Seek out consensus: Sometimes you simply want to know if a claim is true or false before sharing it with others. To verify a claim, seek out other trusted sources to see what they are saying about that claim. If you find consensus across these sources, you should feel good about trusting the claim is true. However, if you can't find other sources to corroborate the claim or if there is widespread disagreement in coverage, it would be wise to remain suspicious and think twice about sharing it with others.

Use a fact-checking site: Sites like FactCheck.org, Snopes, and PolitiFact can help you distinguish facts from fiction.

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Determine the original context: Information shared on social media is often presented out of context in order to push an agenda and/or make content go viral. For example, misleading or flat-out false captions alter the meaning of photos to prove a point or elicit an emotional reaction, and statistics presented out of context misrepresent data in order to affect public opinion. Learn the original context of an image's publication by doing a reverse image search in Google. Trace statistics to their creators in order to better understand their meaning,