The Internet is one of the final frontiers. Untamed and unregulated, it offers huge opportunity for individual freedom in exploration and communication. With a smartphone, you have access to anything you want to know at all times. However, the price of this great freedom is increased personal responsibility.
In the past, our information was curated for us. Now with open access, this has all changed. You can no longer depend on other sources to filter the quality or accuracy of the information you find.
Have you ever read something that alarmed you and immediately forwarded it to several other people or posted it on Facebook? Did you find out later that what you shared was not accurate? It’s all too common. People jump onto a statement without verifying its accuracy and it flies around the Internet.
Even accurate information gets slanted in its reporting. For example, a bomb is exploded in Israel and kills a family. How that event is reported and interpreted will depend on where your sympathies lie in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It’s a natural human reaction to fall prey to confirmation bias – “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of your existing beliefs or theories, and to give less consideration to alternative possibilities.” When you read something on a topic you are already concerned about, unless you use your critical thinking skills, the information will simply further confirm your beliefs.
Three Questions to Help Determine Accuracy on the Internet
1. Is the information true?
– Look at the source of the article. Is it a well-known source? Does the source have a bias?
– Do a Google search using a key phrase. Check out several of the articles that show up, not just one.
– If they quote research, check to see if it is quality, valid research.
– Check with Snopes or FactCheck.
– If it’s a quote, check attribution with Wikiquotes or Quote Investigator.
2. What is the real information?
Often information is packaged in interpretation and opinions. Ask what is the information itself, not the interpretation of the information? Look for data and make your own decision on the interpretation. Even Wikipedia articles need to be evaluated. Here’s a good resource on how to evaluate Wikipedia articles.
3. How would someone who holds a different view interpret the article?
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not hold your views. This can be one of the most effective ways to help you be objective and find where there are holes in the article.
Three Skills to Develop
It’s a pain in the neck to have to do this extra work, but it’s the price we must pay for having direct access to information. The alternative is to give up the freedom to draw your own conclusions and think for yourself.
Put the effort into developing and using these skills:
1. Evaluating research to identify quality, valid studies.
2. Separating data from opinion.
3. Critical thinking: stepping out of emotionality and using objective analysis.
For tips to easily determine the credibility of polls and studies, see my post: How to Evaluate the Quality of Research.
You are so spot on!! The Great problem with the current election, is that people don’t sit and ask the critical questions. They expect that information has been validated. Not so . The apolitical source , Politifact, rates Hillary at 23 % lies l and Trump at 67% lies. Judge for yourself … and think carefully
Great example, Eileen. And thanks for mentioning Politifact, an independent, nonpartisan news organization, Pulitzer Prize winner and an excellent resource for verifying accuracy.
Nicely put Jesse. Though I am not sure if even by knowing where they are missing, people would want to change it.
You see it is convenient to throw out in open what one feels, even if the vehicle carrying it is wrong.
It doesnt matter if that partcular news is true or false, what matters is that in the eyes of the person the idea behind the news is real & happening somewhere (therefore true) and so they ought to clearly state their position even if it means using a false vehicle.
People are not concerned about the truth, they are concerned about their opinions(feelings) and they need acceptance of the same.
Truth is very easy to find if someone really wants to, but do they want to…
“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Excellent article Jesse. This skill is something that my social studies Mr. Maisel taught us in 9th grade. I’ve always valued it. Most recently I had a conversation with an acquaintance in Pennsylvania, who was classic undecided. She shared her thinking, her concerns, and she was willing to listen to mine. I did my best to use reliable sources. By the end of our conversation, she was leaning in the direction of a different presidential candidate, and it was not because I was pressing. It was because she was thinking.
A great example of how real dialogue works. We listen with respect and intent to understand, we exchange information, and we each use our critical thinking skills to come to our own conclusion. Thanks for sharing, Margie.
Great post as yours typically are… Love the links to sources of previous assessments. But I have to raise, once again (ad nausium I know…), my often shared cautions.
1. There are impacts of always present uncertainty in any evaluation. Thus, the best we can hope for in our or others’ assessment is for the information to be USEFUL to us – help us address a meaningful situation. Correct answers do exist but are never the outcome of any assessment.
2. Just because some information helped a person address a particular situation, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that that same information will help others (or the same person even) address similar situations! Indeed, we must expect that at some time, the information will NOT be useful!!!
Good point – ultimately it comes down to how we use information. Thanks for weighing in, John.
There’s absolutely far too much thinking that anything is correct or incorrect. There is a correct answer; but unless it’s based upon definitions (2+2=? has a ‘correct’ aswer of 4 because of our definitions of 2, 4, +, and =), we cannot know what it is unless our evaluations / measurements are done enough times that the uncertainty is zero.
This is excellent and timely. With this crazy election there is so much misinformation on both sides. We were just talking about how undereducated we all are in understanding statistics and what constitutes a valid study. Also, if your gut say what you are reading is wrong, go the next step to confirm. Thanks for such a clear post.
Thanks, Joan. We need to take responsibility to educate ourselves about how to analyze the information we are being bombarded with. I would add that even if your gut says something is right, it’s worth verifying anyway.
One part of me gets upset with the manipulative action of those that write truth without facts foregarding the sake of being provocative. The bigger frustration though is understanding how to deal with people that want their beliefs to be validated. Confirmation bias is very much operating without notice and it tends to be what gets us in a twist as people refuse to entertain a different point of view (or if what they believe is not true). I like the advise you give for us to check ourselves Jesse. I just worry that the ease of being validated makes it much easier to roll with it than do the work as you suggest above.
Well said, Thabo. There’s a huge price in not making that effort. Education is the key to liberation. Without accurate information, we become pawns in someone else’s agenda.
Another wonderful, rich and informative post, Jessie.
And I LOVE the quote. 🙂
Thanks, Amy. So great to hear from you!
Thanks so much, Jesse. I have just returned from Cuba where I got a good lesson on the importance of bias and interpretation!
It certainly plays out in politics. And there are important lessons to be learned from other countries.
Sorry, I was late to the party.
Three more (probably subsets of 1):
1.1 Does the article cite named sources or quotes from authorities?
Many articles contain no original reporting or research, and simply engage in outright speculation, or they link to an article on another website that is also devoid of original reporting or content
1.2 Does a Google search turn up dozens of identical “cut and paste” variants of the same article, on websites that either (a) have a reputation for inaccuracy, or (b) are known to be funded by politically partisan groups or industry bodies?
If the article is being cloned around dozens of similarly-themed websites, this is a good indication that you are reading an article that is being propagated via echo chambers. Such articles are designed to activate confirmation bias.
1.3 Does the article lede contain CAPITALIZED WORDS?
Article containing one of more words in capital letters are primarily designed as clickbait. Clickbait, almost by definition, is never original content and is usually a stew of hyperbole, falsehoods and exaggerations packaged to look and read like it might be important
Excellent additions, Graham! Thanks for your helpful and detailed information.