It’s not uncommon for us to read our news on Facebook, or turn to Google to help us answer a question. Unfortunately, fake news sites, hoaxes and online content that blatantly misinforms people are on the rise. Aside from the fact that this propagates false information, a large number of today’s youth are revealed to lack the skills needed to gauge the reliability of the information they receive online.
One Stanford study looked at how children assess information they find online. A total of 7,804 students aged from 11-14 were surveyed for the study. The study revealed that 82% of the students find it challenging to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. Instead of considering the source, most of the students judged the reliability of the news story by the amount of detail given and whether or not a large photo was included.
When given a problem or question, the first thing people think to do is to “Google it.” But Google doesn’t always have the right answers. While not known for their blunders, Google has occasionally given people some very wrong information. Another popular source for finding answers, and also occasionally getting incorrect facts, is Wikipedia. Some schools have banned students from using Wikipedia as a source in assignments due to its unreliability. It’s obvious that a lot of us need to know how to gauge whether the information we see online is trust-worthy or not. The first step of doing this is to accept how fast fake news can spread.
7 Tips for Ensuring your Information is Credible
It’s always a good idea to check the accuracy of everything you read online, whether you’re simply reading the news or you’re gathering research for an assignment. Read our tips to help you check if the information you’ve found is true or not.
- Go Straight to the Source
Most news stories or opinion pieces would cite a study or an expert as a way to bolster the legitimacy of what they’re saying. After all, seeing phrases such as “studies have shown” give the impression that the information has been researched and proven already. However, don’t take this at face value. Try to track down the original study or quote and check the links if there are any. If the article doesn’t mention specific people or numbers, or the details are vague, there’s a good chance it’s not factual information.
- Double Check the URL
Keep in mind that some URLs ending in a .com, .net or .org, or some others can be bought and used by anyone. Information uploaded on sites such as these should be double-checked for a favoured perspective. Meanwhile, URLs such as .edu and .gov are more likely to contain reliable sources of information as these are only used by either a school (.edu) or government (.gov).
- Weigh the Source’s Objectivity
You should always take into account your source’s objectivity. If the writer or website is known for its particular set of views, the facts included in the content might be geared towards its own viewpoint. If you have doubts about the objectivity of the source, read the site’s “About Us” page to check whether the writer or company supports a specific cause. You should also check for obvious signs of bias, such as the use of strong or passionate language, oversimplification of explanations and ignoring facts that don’t support their views. Be mindful of arguments that are more emotional than factual as well.
- Check the Writer’s Credibility
Aside from the content of the article, it’s also a good idea to check the credibility of the writer. Is the writer using his or her own name or just an acronym? Credible writers won’t be afraid to use their real names. The article should also have the writer’s contact details on hand, such as an email address or social media profiles. Go over the writer’s credentials to check whether he or she really is an expert on the topic or if they’re experienced or qualified enough to provide an opinion or write on a certain subject.
After all, it’s always better to get your information from an expert. You should also check what news organisations or academic institutions the writer is affiliated with.
- Don’t Forget to Check Quotes and Dates
Trustworthy publications often include quotes from experts. Not only will this give readers more information, it also helps both sides of the story to be heard. Be wary of articles that don’t provide any quotes from experts or academics, particularly if the topic is of a controversial nature. But don’t just take those quotes at face value. Do your due diligence and look over the expert’s credentials. You should also try to look for the original transcript and verify if the quotes are real.
The date that the information was given or when the quote was made is also important. See if the information provided is current. Data that’s a few months or years old might already be outdated or have been disproved by new facts. It goes without saying that when researching, avoid websites that have not been updated in years.
- Do your own Research
One negative offshoot of having a mountain of information at our fingertips is that we take that information as it is, without checking its accuracy and legitimacy. A lot of students who research online just rely on whatever comes up in a Google search. While search engines have made our lives easier, you have to go the extra mile and do some leg work.
It’s better if you use the internet hand in hand with independent research. This will ensure that you’re getting information from a variety of reliable sources. It will also help you to come up with a more balanced, and hopefully fair, viewpoint.
There are a lot of avenues for gathering information. But nothing beats the library. Aside from the library having a lot of the basic information that you’ll be needing, a librarian can guide you in using library resources, help with fact checking or give some pointers on how to research better.
- Ask for Help from the Experts
Why stay with the middle man when you can go straight to the experts? Whatever your research topic is, there will always be experts or professionals who are only too willing to answer your questions. For instance, if you’re conducting a study on obesity and exercise, go talk to a coach or a nutritionist. But bear in mind that even if you’re dealing with experts, you still have to gauge their integrity, accuracy and objectivity.
Every story has two sides. Before you accept any news or information that you read as being true, check your source’s integrity. You don’t want to be a part of spreading the fake news or receive the wrong information.
Central College Online is a part of the Group Colleges of Australia organisation which has been established for over thirty years and offers online courses in more than forty subjects to thousands of students.