True or False? How to Check Information on the Internet

Have you ever been amazed by how fast the news spreads on the Internet now? With retweets and shares that flood our social media feeds comes the responsibility to sort through the information and quickly decide which is worthy of considering and which is labeled as fake. In this article we are going to talk about the tactics and tools one can use to distinguish whether information comes from a reliable source and whether the content was manipulated, or not.

Misinformation vs disinformation

These two terms both describe false information. The difference is in the underlying intent. Misinformation comes from people sharing information while believing that it’s true. Disinformation is the deliberate spread of fake news aimed to deceive and mislead.

Reliable information. What to look for?

Imagine one daily situation. You receive a message on WhatsApp from your mom. It is a long message forwarded from someone else that describes all the non-traditional methods of how to cure illness X. Your mom, being very subject to believing information related to health, takes the content seriously. You, on the other hand, know that such messages are usually scams. What arguments can you use?

Here are the features of a reliable source of information:

  1. There is a known author who is an expert in the field who will be responsible for the information.
  2. There is a link to a study or a website.
  3. The information in question can be accessed by a simple Google search.
  4. You can trace the initial source of information.

Which websites are reliable?

Depending on the information you’re looking for, it is best to refer to websites that can back up what they present by having links to specific outside sources, organisations, books, or studies. With that in mind, Wikipedia can’t always be a reliable source for important matters, e.g. health, diagnosis, or true biographical information because it can be edited by anyone on the web. But it is a good starting point to search for outside sources and external links.

Reputation plays a role for media outlets. Thus, the bigger the audience that a news outlet has, the more likely it is that facts will go through a verification process. Another aspect for consideration is bias. Bias is a tendency to lean towards a certain view on different issues. For example, Reuters and Bloomberg tend to stay neutral when it comes to reporting on news.

Is there truth on social media?

Social media blurs the line between opinion and fact and opens up an opportunity for misinformation. And the ability to share posts can amplify the effects of the malicious spread of false information.

As a rule of thumb, verified accounts of organisations tend to provide more reliable facts in comparison to verified accounts of bloggers and celebrities who prominently share their opinions.

How to check if a photo is real?

Have you ever wondered if a photo shared on social media was real or photoshopped? Now, if something casts a shadow of doubt, you can easily check if the photo has been manipulated by using a website called TinEye.

This platform allows anyone to upload a photo or insert a URL link to it and see the areas of the photo that have been altered. Additionally, you can find all the websites that use this photo and possibly compare it to the initial source.

How to check facts?

With an avalanche of information coming from all news media, critical thinking is an essential skill that allows you to hand-pick truthful information. And in order to save time searching for initial sources and reading the studies on which an article was based, fact checking websites are doing this work for you.

Depending on where you are in the world, there will be fact checking organizations whose job is to find evidence for or disproof of claims that circulate in society and on the Internet. For Europe, two of such websites are EU Fact Check and Full Fact. They form a conclusion as to whether a claim is true based on the supporting evidence that they find.

Photo: Shutterstock

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