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HIST 132 - Evaluating news and other sources

Four moves to fact check

These four moves from Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael A. Caulfield will help you go deeper in assessing the quality of your sources.

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

Expect accountability

When encountering a news or information source, ask yourself...

What do you know about the source?

Who publishes it? Who owns it?

Does the source have an Editorial Policy?
Does it follow a Code of Ethics?
Lack of an explicit and prominent editorial policy or a statement of ethical standards is a red flag.

High-quality, investigative news sources have explicit editorial policies and follow a code of ethics or professional standards.

Examples: Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics; Ethical Journalism Network's 5 Principles of Ethical Journalism.

Specific examples of policies and standards:

Accountable sources issue corrections for errors and inaccuracies they subsequently discover. Corrections and inaccuracies should be addressed on the original content for an online source. For a print source, the corrections and inaccuracies are usually addressed in the subsequent issue. Fake news sources are not accountable for their content.

Accountable sources sign their stories and take personal and professional responsibility for the content. That means that articles should have bylines (the names of the authors).

Can you click on the byline? Where does it lead?

Google the author names. Is there a LinkedIn profile? Some other form of biographical information? What has the author done in the past? Does the author's background and experience qualify them to write on the article topic?

Adapted from Cornell University's "Fake News, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources: Expect Accountability"

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