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INT300: Special Problems in International Studies: Evaluating Sources

How to Spot Fake News

Less Helpful Evaluation Techniques

For years, people were taught to evaluate information on the Internet using checklists and simple criteria. In truth, these recommendations are not effective. The following criteria have been promoted as assessment tools--but they are not that effective:

  • Web Domain: .org .edu .gov .com. Identifying the domain of a Web site provides very little information in terms of assessing the validity of a site.
  • Look and Feel. Making a Web site look modern and attractive is not difficult, and doesn't speak to its accuracy.
  • Advertising. The presence of advertising is not a disqualification. Some scholarly sites and important, reliable news outlets have advertising.
  • Grammar. Although we expect Web sites to be free from grammatical and typographic mistakes, whether a site is free of them or not does not impact whether the information on the page is correct.

If these criteria are not the answer, what is? How do you verify what you read online? You need to fact check. Go to other places online and seek corroboration for what is being claimed. Identify who is responsible for the page you are reading. If you need a model to follow, go to Snopes.com and see how they evaluate online claims, such as the Olive Garden-Trump Re-election claim.

Fact Checking Resources (Check for Previous Work)

Check the Source (Read Laterally)

The Four Moves

The Four Moves listed below come from Michael Caulfield's Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, available in full at https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/front-matter/web-strategies-for-student-fact-checkers/

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.
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