By Bianca Chan
If you think about it, there is a seemingly infinite amount of information on the Internet. The gargantuan organization of the World Wide Web alone is menacingly substantial, and what’s more, we are becoming increasingly dependent on it. ‘What’s that song?’ Let me look it up. ‘How to convert feet to meters?’ Let me look it up. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ Let me look it up. It might as well be the mantra of this century. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing – if you’re smart about it.
With all of the amazing information out there, there’s also a lot of misleading data, misinformed content, faulty information and fake news. Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind all the time, whether it’s surfing the Internet or conducting research on your upcoming paper.
- Familiarize yourself with the source
Considering where you get your information is the first and most obvious step when thinking about the credibility of the information. Some sources are known to be less trustworthy, such as the Daily Mail from the U.K. (despite it being one of the world’s most visited newspaper site). Some sites produce satirical content that can be mistaken for real news, like The Onion, and some sites have a reputation for being reliable, including BBC News, The Globe and Mail and the New York Times.
That being said, there’s a third category of sites which includes politically driven and influenced sources, including the Wall Street Journal and Breitbart on the right, as well as CBC and MSNBC on the left. Depending on its political stance, these well-known sites may take a subjective angle on a story.
- Read beyond
Outrageous headlines can be written as clickbait to grab attention and lure traffic to the website. Read further into the story to get a fuller picture. Similarly, scan other headlines and stories from the source to spot other questionable stories.
- Search the author
Are they credible? Are they real? What other stories/essays/articles have they written?
- Check the supporting sources
Often times articles will call upon information from other stories and outlets – take your research a step further and check those sources to be sure that the information given actually supports the story.
- How old is it?
Almost all stories and articles are archived, meaning you can search for stories that were published decades ago. Just because something was thought to be true at one time does not mean that the information is relevant or accurate. Check the date of what you’re reading – you don’t want to be depending on outdated information.
- Check your own biases
Sometimes your own personal beliefs and experiences can influence your judgement. Try to have an open mind. Read from sources you usually wouldn’t to expose yourself and confront your biases.
- Dig a little deeper
If you’re unsure about something you’ve read, do a quick Google search and see if credible sources are covering it. If they aren’t, odds are it’s faulty information.
- Read the fine print
Articles that declare a cure for a major illness, or “drinking red wine can reduce your chances of cancer” are more often than not misleading. By using subtle language like “can” or “may,” readers are often misled or are guided to jump to conclusions. Keep your eyes out for sensationalized stories and read carefully.
- Don’t be tricked by statistics
Polls and other statistics are the basis for many a news article. However, they can be, and often are, extremely misleading depending on how the questions are phrased and the results can be taken out of context. Be on extra alert if a poll is featured and double check the source and details of the statistics, such as when it was conducted, who participated, who didn’t participate, what age group, how big the sample group was and so on.
- Ask the experts
Asking a librarian, teaching assistant, professor, colleague or fact-checking site is a great way to get a sober second thought. IT Help and the Library Services Desk at MacOdrum Library are always happy to help with research and resource inquiries, as well as providing credible sources and databases that Carleton provides access to. Check out www.snopes.com and www.factcheck.org for definitive fact-checking.