The proliferation of digital resources and media means that the sheer volume and nature of information and data available makes it possible for even the most honest presenter to fall victim to misinformation. The situation is aggravated by fake news, i.e., intentionally created and published news items that are not more than hoaxes, propaganda items, and lies claiming to be real news. These are often reported through social media to generate web traffic and intensify their effect.
Then, the question to ask is: Are you, as a presenter, a victim of fake news? Are you unknowingly circulating lies?
The following are 8 ways to check the integrity of your sources and the truthfulness of their reports.
1. Have you checked the source?
Every news item, report or opinion article should come from a reliable site. At first glance they can be identified by the domain name and suffix (.org, .com, .edu, and the like). Avoid websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real, legitimate and official sites. Check if well-known and widely acknowledged trustworthy sites are also reporting the same content. Sometimes lack of appearance is the result of bias, prejudice or even malice. Typically there should be more than source reporting the same content that you are focusing on.
2. Have you checked the author?
Always aim at content that is signed. This will allow you to cross-reference the content and the author, as well as where he stands in the community. Lack of author acknowledgment and professional attributes may, although not always, suggest that the content in question is suspect and requires further corroboration. Some organizations are producing content in the form of blog posts. These microsites do not undergo the same – rigid- editing processes and the content may not be as accurate as you may wish for. As a rule of thumb, if you are referencing content from a blog, check the “About Us” tab to gather as much information about the source as possible.
3. Have you checked the date?
How recent and/or current is the content you are referencing? Even if the date is current, could it be that this is a repost of an older form of content? Can you trace its origins? It is always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints. Distinguish between the date of publication and the time the content was created; sometimes the choice of terms and expressions may point towards the true age of the material.
4. Have you checked your biases?
Are you approaching content with an open mind? The way you view the world or the point you are trying to make may not be the only innocuous filter. Even the most reputable of sources fluctuate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic content. Researchers should be required to verify and contextualize information with other sources.
5. Have you read beyond the source?
The social media genre requires authors to adopt a simpler, shorter, more direct approach to content. As a result the maximum performance of multiple layers of linguistic processing could be lost, especially if the author of the content has a partial view or understanding of the key ideas. This may lead to specific content being nominally linked to credible sources, yet the ideas, opinions or facts included may be inaccurate. Reading extensively before creating your own content will help you identify the trustworthy points and views.
6. Have you found supporting sources?
Check the links listed in the source. Are they still active? Are they dependable? Go through steps 1-5 above for each one. It may seem like overkill, however, the fact that the original creator of the content you are referencing has listed a number of sources does not necessarily mean that they support the points he is making.
7. Have you identified the source’s intention?
Clickbait is a relatively new practice that refers to web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue. This is usually attempted at the expense of quality or accuracy and is victim of sensationalism. The content author has a very clear motive in mind: web traffic. It goes without saying that your source should exploit the natural “curiosity gap”. It should also allow you to identify the intention
of the author effortlessly: to inform, to entertain, to call to action, to sensitize or any combination of these.
8. Have you consulted reputable experts?
Check the qualifications of the authors of your sources. Then, check again. Qualifications alone will not protect you from content generated from attention hungry authors. Mainstream professionals differ in more than qualifications. Experience, actual place of work may indicate how dependable certain content creators are. Does their field of work abide to specific codes of practice? If so, are these codes readily available? You may think that mainstream is synonymous to conformist or old-fashioned. However, clear thinking, accuracy and fairness are not exclusive to specific expert, ideological or social groups.
Remember that you have a reputation to uphold. According to Ivan Junius “Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable”.