Melina’s Memorandum

Assessing a Source’s Accuracy: Six Easy Steps

We all have those friends or family member on Facebook who share every headline they see that seems newsworthy. I can practically see them scrolling through Facebook then they suddenly see this piece of news that seemingly blows their mind. Then they share the post almost immediately. These people probably took no time to see where the information was coming from or considered that some of the info may be false or a misrepresentation of the ideas, statistics or events to encourage the reader to feel a certain way.

There are many sources on Facebook that pop up on your newsfeed that have headlines that appear to be reputable news. The people who post these headlines and articles usually feel as if they are sharing truthful news.

Although it may seem harmless, many of our political opinions are shaped by what we read. Many people use social media as a way to stay up to date with current events, so sites like Facebook and Twitter are now a way of getting news information to help formulate these stances.

Using social media sites in this way isn’t inherently a bad thing. It provides an unprecedented level of convenience which can provide trustworthy news and spread it rapidly; however, there are untrustworthy news sources that spread just as quickly.

So when scrolling through your feed, don’t be the person propagating false information. Melissa Zimmars of Merrimack College in Massachusetts shares six simple steps for discerning credible news links online.

Step 1: Look at the title or domain name. Sites that end in “.wordpress” or “blogger” are usually a non-professional source. Additionally, there can be false versions of reputable sources that end in “.com.”

Step 2: Look at the “about us” section of the website. Who writes for the site? Are they experts on the subject or just concerned citizens? Without this section, there is no way to know if the writers have completely made up the information or they are knowledgeable about the subject. Transparency is vital.

Step 3: Look at the sources used. Is the article linked to a peer reviewed study? Are there citations? Showing where the information that bolsters the article’s conclusions is also indispensable.

Step 4: Look at the writing style. Does it adhere to journalistic standards or follow scientific research writing conventions?

Step 5: Look at the page’s layout. Is the design professional? Many false sites appear unprofessional and are poorly designed. So, layout is a good indicator of reliability.

Step 6: Look at the site’s social media presence. When searching the site on Facebook or Twitter, are the headlines overly provocative? Misleading sources often use language or pictures extreme in nature to attract shares, likes and clicks.

These steps can help you identify false sources. Nothing is more frustrating than an educated person sharing information that is clearly from an aberrant source. It may seem cheesy, but there is a reason professors constantly remind students to utilize reputable sources.

According to the Pew Research Center, the news sources with the highest level of trustworthiness were “The Economist,” “The Wall Street Journal” and BBC. At the bottom of the list of trustworthiness were the Rush Limbaugh Show and Buzzfeed News.

Opinions should be formed from a plethora of trustworthy sources. Don’t just take a news source’s account of a story. Make sure you’re being thoroughly informed from trustworthy sources. Not all information is inherently bad, but the way news is portrayed by the news can influence your opinion if taken alone.

Furthermore, one should not discount the amount of ethical journalism being reported today. While there has been an immense increase of news media outlets not reporting true information, there are many national news sources that still are conducting good work. There will be a mistake or two in any source, but journalists are doing the best they can to take complex issues and present them in a format that is understandable to the public.

In the midst of the “fake news” stigma, it is crucial to assess sources’ credibility. Some sources are completely falsified, and some have truth. Use the tools you have been equipped with in your studies to find the truth.