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News, Sources, and Fact-Checking: Navigating the Landscape

How to choose your news

Helpful vocabulary

  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to believe information is credible if it conforms to the reader’s/viewer’s existing belief system, or not credible if it does not conform
     
  • Container collapse: term for our trouble discerning the original information container, format or information type–blog, book, pamphlet, government document, chapter, magazine, newspaper, journal, or section of the newspaper or magazine or journal–once publishing cues are removed and every source looks like a digital page or a printout.
     
  • Content farm or Content mill: a company that employs a staff of freelance writers to create content designed to satisfy search engine retrieval algorithms with the goal of attracting views and advertising revenue.
     
  • Echo chamber:In news media an echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.”
     
  • Fact checking: the act of verifying assertions either prior to publication or after dissemination of the content
     
  • Filter bubble: When search tools present with the stories we are likely to click on or share based on our past activity, potentially affirming our biases, we need may be experiencing what Eli Pariser calls a filter bubble,
     
  • Herding phenomenon: as more journalists begin to cover a story, even more journalists are likely to join the herd, imitating the angle the story initially took rather than developing alternate or original approaches or angles.
     
  • Native advertising: paid, sponsored content designed to look like the legitimate content produced by the media outlet
     
  • Satisficing: a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice introduced by Herbert Simon in 1956 to refer to the tendency of people, bounded by time limitations, to select good enough information over optimal information
     
  • Triangulation or Cross verificationResearchers establish validity by using several research methods and by analyzing and examining multiple perspectives and sources in the hope that diverse viewpoints will can shed greater light on a topic.
     
  • Virality: the rapid circulation of media from one user to another.  When we forward sensational stories, often from social media without checking their credibility in other sources, we increase their virality.

Rules of thumb

Check About and About me pages: 

Clicking on or investigate authors names to consider their credentials in context should be a regular part of the research journey.  

Interrogate urls: 

We see quite a bit of domain manipulation these days. For instance, what looks like an .edu domain, followed by .co or “lo” is likely a fake or deceptive site.  If you are you seeing a slightly variant version of a well-known URL, do a little investigating.

Suspect the sensational: 

When we see something posted that looks sensational, it is even more important to be skeptical. Exaggerated and provocative headlines with excessive use of capital letters or emotional language are serious red flags.

Go back to the source: 

When an article mentions a study, if you can, go directly to the sourceand check its bona fides as well.

Go back to the story again (and again):

Breaking news will continue to break. Early reports are built from limited information so you’ll want to watch a story grow into a fuller picture.

Think outside the reliability box:

The old checklist-type tools we used to evaluate websites do not necessarily work. ACRL’s Framework reminds us that the notion of reliability can be fluid. Experts know how to seek authoritative voices but also recognize that unlikely voices can be authoritative, depending on need.  On Twitter’s 10th birthday this year, Poynter, the respected journalism portal, listed 10 Twitter How Tos–guides for using Twitter for journalism from its own archive. Students can benefit from these tips too.

Triangulate: 

Try to verify the information in multiple sources, including traditional media and library databases. You can begin to rule out the hoaxes by checking out sites like the nonprofit, nonpartisan FactCheck.org, or popular sites like Snopes or Hoax-Slayer.

What exactly are you reading?: 

Even when you find yourself in a traditional news site, identify what type of writing you are reading. Is it news reporting, or a feature story, or an editorial, or work by a guest blogger, or a review, or an op-ed or a disguised ad, or a comment?

Check your own search attitude and biases: 

Is your search language biased in any way?  Are you paying more attention to the information that confirms your own beliefs and ignoring evidence that does not?

Use a little energy:

Have you simply satisficed or have you done your due diligence in seeking and validating the best possible sources across media sources?

Stop before you forward (or use): 

When you see a widely shared or forwarded link, be suspicious of a hoax or a fake story.  Can you verify the information outside of the social media platform on which you discovered it?

Be suspicious of pictures!: 

Not all photographs tell truth or unfiltered truth. Images are normally edited or process, but sometimes they are digitally manipulated. Some are born digital. A Google reverse image search can help discover the source of an image and its possible variations.