Navigating the world wide web can sometimes feel like a minefield, but Logically has put together a list of top tips to help you critically evaluate your sources, and be certain that you aren't falling prey to false news.

If you're a person with internet access in 2018 then you've probably heard of 'fake news' by now. It's a big issue, and it runs deep. In fact, a recent report from Reuters has found that 54% of people are concerned about what is real and fake on the internet. Meanwhile, a study by MIT has discovered that false news on Twitter is 70% more likely to be retweeted than news that is factually accurate.

Navigating the world wide web can sometimes feel like a minefield—there's so much to cover and it's constantly changing. How do you make sure that you're steering clear of the junk?

We've put together a list of top tips to help you critically evaluate your sources, and be certain that you aren't falling prey to false news.

Do a background check

Where, when and who is the information coming from? Context is everything, and the provenance of a source will have a big impact on its overall credibility. Here are a couple of key questions to ask:

  • Who is the author? Think about their credentials, previous work history and potential biases,
  • Who published the information? Are they reputable, and do they have any agenda or perspective that they're trying to push,
  • When was it written and published? Does this date make sense? If not, the source might have been reused or taken out of context.

Scrutinise the source

Once you've done your due diligence, the next step is examining the source more closely to see what's being said, and how. Ask yourself:

  • Is it labelled? Opinion piece, news report or live event coverage? If you're looking at an article, it should be clear what kind of piece it is, and where it has come from if it's been reproduced,  
  • Can you spot any biases? Think about the way that the author talks about a topic or person, and whether or not this reflects a particular attitude or perspective. The kind of language used can help you to identify this,
  • Check the references. Look for citations or references that back up quotes, specific claims or statistics, and make sure that they come from reputable sources,
  • It's all about the context. Is this the first time you've heard about this story? There might be a reason that other outlets haven't covered the issue. Check to see that the information in the article is consistent with other reports.

Sweat the small stuff

With verification, details matter. Any professional worth their salt has made sure to triple check their work before it's published, and pays close attention to little inconsistencies that pop up. Make sure to:

  • Watch the grammar. Too many spelling or grammatical errors are a good indication that you're looking at low-quality information,
  • Flip it around by doing a reverse image search too see if a picture has appeared before. If that crazy photo of a freak storm last week also happened to appear on a different website two years ago, it probably isn't an original.

Some things to remember

  1. Don't share it until you've read it. This one goes without saying, but make sure that you read to the bottom before you decide whether something is worth spreading.
  2. If in doubt, ask the experts. Verification can be a tricky business, so if you've asked all the tough questions, try looking to a professional fact checking organisation for help. Snopes, Politifact and are good places to start.
  3. Keep it kind. If you've shared a piece of false news, it's okay—it happens. The best thing to do is to take it down ASAP and let your friends and followers know that it was a mistake, and that the information was incorrect. If you see others sharing false stuff, politeness and empathy are key. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, and those serial offenders are more likely to listen if the person on the other end isn't telling them that they're flat-out wrong.

This article's header image is by Glenn Carstens-Peters from Unsplash.