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Evaluating Web Resources

How to evaluate the objectivity, accuracy, and trustworthiness of Internet web sites.

News Sources

News can refer to any source which informs people about current events.  The quality and purpose of news sources can vary dramatically depending on the writers/organization as well as the source's intended audience.

Can I trust this news source?  Things to look for:

  • Incendiary or click-bait language. Headlines which immediately inspire anger or which deliberately leave out information to lure people in are less likely to be from reputable, informative news sources.  Instead, they may be designed to incite emotion and encourage sharing via social media to generate ad revenue.  Watch for exaggerated or false events that can't be verified elsewhere.
  • Extreme Bias.  The events of the story may be factually correct, but are described in language designed to push a political or other viewpoint.  They may also leave out crucial details.  Many news sources are highly reliable and still slightly biased - watch for extremes.
  • False or misleading data.  You should be able to follow references provided by the news organization to verify any statistics or other data.  Watch for a lack of citations or unreliable references (e.g., a link to a retracted scientific study).
  • Product placement.  Reputable news organizations may host some advertisements, but they will not be included as part of the text of actual news articles.  Watch for ads that mimic genuine news in design and language to generate profit.

Fake News and Misinformation

 

Fake news is deliberately false information that mimics mainstream news and has been published to incite strong emotions, sow discord, or influence decision making.

  • Fake news: Objectively untrue facts
  • Not fake news: Articles about true events, but told with an obvious political slant.  Articles with extreme political bias are still not the most reliable sources even if they are not "fake."

 

Misinformation may be entirely false, or it may contain some true facts with a false social/historical context or incorrect conclusions from a set of data.  It is spread without the explicit intent to deceive others.

 

Fake news and misinformation can spread rapidly via social media, word of mouth, or other means when people are not careful to check the original source.  In both your personal and academic life, it is important to carefully evaluate news to ensure you have the best information possible and to avoid spreading false information to others.

 

More detail/examples: Fake news websites in the United States

Satire

Satire refers to content - often "news" articles - that contains deliberately false information for the purposes of humor and social/political commentary.  It may reference false events and include ridiculous statistics, made-up quotes, or staged/edited photographs.  Unlike fake news, it is not intended to actually deceive others.

If you come across a piece of news that seems too absurd to be true, it might be because it isn't.

How do I check whether a piece is satire?
  • Check the Home or About pages of the website.  It may clearly be labeled as satire.
  • Check Wikipedia for an article about the website/organization.
  • Check other news sources for reference to the event/quotation/etc. in question.  If you can't find it discussed anywhere else, it's possible it didn't actually happen.
  • Check whether the article provides citations or links to back up statistics, quotations, etc.  If not, they might be made up.
  • Question outlandish claims about prominent figures or groups.  See if you can verify those claims from a trusted source.
Example Satire Sites

The Onion, September 9, 2021