Is Social Security bankrupt? Are our lawmakers planning to do away with Social Security? Is COVID-19 now under control or is it out-of-control? Is COVID-19 a foreign plot to undermine the U.S.?
As responsible citizens, it is important for all of us to stay informed. But with so much contradictory information available and from so many different sources, how do any of us know what to believe? I asked an expert for her advice on how to be a better consumer of news. Here are some of her tips.
How to Distinguish Between Credible and Questionable News
By Melinda Benton,
Associate Professor of Journalism
We have millions of stories every day to choose from – choose wisely.
- Look for authors who quote from reputable, primary documents and provide you the links back to those documents.
- Start your research on an issue by searching for what happened, not why the action was good or bad.
- Begin with questions, not conclusions, and hold off on the punditry.
- Check the “About” tab on a website – you should see a location for the publication.
- Look up publications to see how long they have existed, who funds them, and how many perspectives they tend to cover. Publications that serve a diverse audience are likely more factual because those outlets have a greater need to present factual information in order to stay in business.
- Look for stories about perspectives you haven’t previously considered which are written in an explanatory voice without a persuasive tone.
- Double-check information before you publish it yourself. Especially avoid re-broadcasting memes with unsubstantiated pieces of information meant to create outrage or disgust. Often, these are created by bots for the sole purpose of destabilizing our society.
- Compare what you’re reading to what you have already learned about business, science, government, psychology, and history so that you don’t fall for manipulation.
- Watch out for correlation – just because two things happened in proximity doesn’t mean one caused the other.
- Take seriously the alerts on social media that say the sources we’re seeing may be inaccurate.
- Verify information with sources like TinEye which help you find fake images.
- Look at sites such as The News Literacy Project and its checkology tools which are excellent and fun to use. The Center for Media Literacy and the Center for News Literacy also have educational tools to help identify truth versus fiction.
- And, accept that we are all susceptible to misinformation and make a concerted effort to expose yourself to information outside of your own filter bubbles. Google News, for example, aggregates news stories to get us beyond our feed algorithms, or we can widen our group of friends –online or in-person—to include people with perspectives and education to supplement what we already know and believe.
- We can also ask ourselves why we’re trusting or mistrusting certain information sets.