Check Your Sources: A Beginner’s Guide to Knowing What to Believe Online

I read a great meme on Facebook a couple years ago.

“Google before you post” is the new “Think before you speak.”

It is cute, funny, and true. We see a great deal of “news” on social media sites every day. Sometimes it is in the form of a link to an article on a website, sometimes it’s a post by a person we know, often it’s a photo with some information on it.

Here is the reality: Websites can carry false information, people often post inaccurate content, and infographics are often self-serving, and not sourced.

Don’t believe everything you read.

Here is a frightening reality: Virtually anyone can have a website about virtually anything. Platforms like WordPress, Blogger, and Wix make it pretty easy. When I was giving digital media seminars across the country, I used to boast about my blog on open-heart surgery. “You should read it,” I would say. “It’s brilliant.” Then I would go on to explain my complete lack of knowledge in the subject area, and my education in communications and philosophy – not medicine.

I always got a laugh with that one. Of course, I do not have a blog about open-heart surgery. The point is that I could if I wanted to. The frightening thing is that some people would believe what I wrote – and they should not!

It isn’t hard to find “news” and information that supports one’s particular agenda. It is easy to locate an article that says what you would like it to say, but is it accurate, or are you spreading false information and propagating lies?

When we see the latest story about a string of robberies in Pizza Hut parking lots, or a seemingly absurd article blasting a politician for doing something that have should landed him or her in jail a decade ago, we must consider the source. If this were real news, why would it not be on a credible mainstream news site?

Check your sources:

  1. To see if a story is a hoax or an urban legend, Google the headline and add the word “hoax.” You will quickly find out if the story you are reading is true.
  2. Ask yourself if the story you’re reading about a senator eating puppies while dressed in fishnets is true. Check websites of reputable journalistic institutions like BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and see if they are carrying the story. If they are not, it is probably not true.

Personal Posts

My uncle’s cousin’s mother’s sister’s former roommate saw this on “Good Morning America.” It’s true.

No. No, it is not. If it were, we would be seeing links to the story on ABC’s “Good Morning America” website. Go ahead. Take a look. It isn’t there.

Some of these posts don’t even include a source. So, ask! If the poster has no response, the story is likely not true.

Infographics offer economic numbers compared between presidential administrations, gun violence by gender, the list goes on. Is there source on the graphic? If so, check it out. Is that source a credible site?

If there is no source, ask!

George Mason University offers some excellent tips on determining the credibility of web sources here. Take a look and keep this tips in mind. In a world in which anyone can pass off anything as true or as “news,” it is up to the content consumers to question credibility, dig more deeply, and decide what is fact and what is fiction.


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