The internet is rich in information and resources. But, with any open forum, some content found online may be designed to misinform or take advantage of you.
Honing your critical thinking skills is by far the best defense against scammers and purveyors of misinformation who lurk online. Those skills can raise red flags telling you something just doesn’t seem right, and they help you judge the accuracy and objectivity of online information or advertisements.
We know it’s dangerous to simply believe at face value everything on the internet. So, to help us sift through the internet’s vast online collection of sources, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) says to run any information through a few commonsense qualifiers before giving it any weight:
- Consider the source. Check the site’s About Us section, contact information, mission, etc. What is their purpose?
- Read beyond. Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story? Often, a news story is written like an upside-down pyramid, with the most important or eye-catching content at the beginning; be sure to read down into the details for the full story.
- Check the author. Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real? Do they have an identifiable bias or goal?
- Supporting sources. Research any supporting evidence. Determine if the information they’re citing actually supports their claims.
- Check the date. Reposting old content doesn’t make it relevant to current events. Plus, if you’re not looking at the content in the form it originally appeared online, something will likely get lost in translation.
- Is it a joke? If it sounds too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
- Check your biases. Consider if your own beliefs are affecting how you feel about a tidbit of information, a news story or an advertisement.
Want to dig deeper? The independent nonprofit organization First Draft, which works internationally to train journalists in information verification and responsible reporting, has made their Verifying Online Information reference guide available to everyone.