We live in an age where we are constantly surrounded by information, thanks to the phone screens at our fingertips. Instead of gathering around the television for the evening news, we can look up anything, anytime. In fact, around 71% of Americans get at least some of their news input from social media. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to determine what is true and what is false. That’s why it’s important to know how to verify your sources before forming an opinion or falling for clickbait headlines.
How to identify false information online
Just like students choose reputable sources when writing a research paper, so should you when reading information online. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true! It’s important to fact-check the source and make sure the information is credible—especially before passing it along to someone else. Bad information can travel quickly, like a game of telephone. But how can you make sure that what you’re reading online is true?
Ways you can verify your sources
If you’re uncertain about what you’re reading online, you can verify the sources with a few simple steps. Don’t forget to practice internet privacy during your research.
Use primary sources
The first step to verifying info you find online is to go straight to the source. We all know that news can be skewed based on who is reporting it. While gossip mags are great for entertainment, they aren’t the best source for finding out the facts. So instead of reading about what a celebrity said in an interview in a magazine, find the original interview online. This same concept applies to other forms of news too. If you’re reading a medical journal, you can go to the primary source and read about the clinical trial for yourself.
While you’re checking your sources, watch out for online scams. If you are scammed online, learn what to do with this guide from CenturyLink.
Check other sources
If you can’t find a primary source, you can always turn to other sources. There’s questionable and confusing information everywhere, and sometimes you need to consult multiple sites to come to an informed conclusion. Search the keywords from your original source. Check if any well-known, reliable sources are covering the story you’re looking for.
While you’re searching the web for this information, make sure your internet speed is working for you. Learn how to determine a good internet speed for you and your needs.
Verify the author is reliable
Verifying that the author is a trusted and reliable educator is an important part of fact-checking. For example, if you’re trying to find out which houseplants are safe for pets, you probably shouldn’t blindly trust the first answer that pops up. Instead, go to a website endorsed or run by a trusted veterinary association. There, you will likely find a list of pet-safe plants, as well as the name of the site owners and their credentials.
While not everything you search for is as important as your pet’s safety, it’s still a good idea to pay attention to who wrote the information you’re putting your trust in. By clicking on author bios, you can learn more about the writer.
Beware of confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is when we tend to believe information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. Don’t worry, we all have it to some extent. Most people are biased in some form or another—reporters, writers, and journalists included. Be aware that the people writing information online may be biased or have an agenda. You may be susceptible to this bias as well. It’s important to acknowledge this so you can embrace new ideas and information.
Watch out for clickbait headlines
We’ve all been tricked by outlandish, eye-catching headlines. Clickbait is meant to grab your attention and draw you into a video or article. However, once you get into the content itself, you’ll probably find that the information is questionable. Learn how to recognize clickbait and take the information with a grain of salt.
If you’re on a sketchy website and you receive an alarming pop-up, be careful! It might be a scareware attack. Learn how to spot and treat scareware attacks.
Living in an always-online world
While the idea of false information online can be alarming, the internet is also be a wonderful space to share ideas, common interests, and stories of hope and positivity. It all depends on how we choose to use it. The most important thing you can do online is stay cautious of scams and use your digital footprint for good. For more on technology and the internet, visit the CenturyLink blog.