Welcome to Part 2 of Kinda Sus: Fact-Checking Internet Sources!
Whether you are working on a research project, reading the news, or just looking up something of interest, it’s important that you always fact-check the information you find. Think like the crewmates in Among Us and get skeptical.
If you aren’t familiar with Among Us, it’s a game of teamwork, trust, but ultimately, 💀DECEPTION💀 ! Crewmates work as a team on a spaceship to complete a list of tasks, but there are imposters among them attempting to sabotage their work.
Like Among Us, it’s sometimes hard to know when information on the internet is going to help us achieve our goal (be better informed) or sabotage our success (give us bad information).
To avoid being sabotaged, you can evaluate the information you find on the internet to determine if it is legit or looking kinda sus. Ask yourself questions about the internet source you found to determine if it is something you should trust. These can be news website, blog, Twitter post, or even YouTube video.
A note for all my crewmates: you don’t need to be paranoid about everything you read on the internet. What you should be is skeptical and conduct your own Emergency Meeting in your head to evaluate what you find.
In Part 1, we talked about the 5 Ws method of evaluating information (Who? What? When? Where? Why?). In Part 2, let’s look at something called the ESCAPE method:
This method was created by NewseumED and can be extra helpful when looking at news websites, but it can be used for any kind of website. Each letter of ESCAPE asks you to look for specific clues so you can determine if a source is reliable: Evidence, Source, Context, Audience, Purpose, and Execution.
That’s a lot to remember! This is a little more complicated than using the 5 Ws, but it’s worth learning if you are like most people and get your news online from websites or social media. It helps you sort the good information from the space junk. Let’s take a look at each step.
(The following has been adapted from this checklist.)
When encountering new-to-you information, compare the evidence to see if other sources are saying the same thing.NewseumED
Look for the information you can verify by checking other sources: names, numbers, places, documents, etc. Basically, if the information is factual, you should see more than one source reporting it.
Let’s use the COVID-19 vaccines as a topic. Choose one news source you trust, a government website, and a less traditional source (blog, social media account). Find 3-5 facts that they agree on.
As you explore different content, consider what makes a good source.NewseumED
In the quote above, we use the word source to mean the person or organization that is providing the information. You want to identify who is behind the information you are looking at: authors, publishers, funders, aggregators, and even social media users.
Find a news article about one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Look at who has “touched” the story:
- Is there an “About” page for the author or publisher?
- What other stories has this author or publisher shared?
- If the author isn’t an expert, do they include information like official statements, government statistics and data, interviews or information from other experts?
What’s the big picture? Consider if this is the whole story and weigh other forces surrounding it.NewseumED
Consider the current events, cultural trends, political goals, or even financial pressures that an author or organization may be affected by. News websites can have slight or extreme bias. See examples HERE and HERE of media bias charts that help us think about the Left/Center/Right biases of online news.
However, you should still be able to get a “big picture” understanding of a topic when reading a story even from a left-leaning or right-leaning news source. If not, the source is not a good one to use.
Put the 5 Ws to work! Find a news story about one of the COVID vaccines and see if you can answer basic questions about the topic: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And also … How? Did the article give you enough information to answer those questions? How much was missing? Did you get enough context? If not, is it trustworthy?
As we gather information, we need to consider news that focuses on different audiences.NewseumED
When evaluating an online resource, think about the intended audience by checking things like: image choices, presentation techniques, language, and content. It’s normal to see differences between news stories that are written by international, national, and local news websites. The facts should agree (the Evidence) but they might approach the topic slightly differently and offer more or less information that makes sense for their audience.
What a source should never do is play on your emotions, reinforce an “us versus them” approach, or push conspiracy theories that “others won’t tell you” or “don’t want you to know.” These are all red flags.
Find news stories about COVID-19 vaccines that are made for the audiences below. What is the same? What is different? How could you tell which audience it was written for?
- Your city
- Your state
- The United States
- Another country
Why something is created can give us an idea of whether we should trust the story enough to use or share with others.NewseumED
Just like sources have audiences in mind, they are also written with a specific purpose. You can look for clues in the article or on the news website: the publisher’s mission statement, persuasive language or images, stated or unstated agendas, or calls to action or moneymaking tactics.
Some sources want to provide factual information. Other sources might want to entertain you or make you laugh. Some might even do both! You should check out the type of publication, the author’s background, and how the author presents the information.
For this example, let’s take a look at different sources covering the same topic: a Dutch inventor, Peter van Wees, has reportedly created a COVID test that involves “screaming” out particles in an air-locked space. How do the sources below cover this story and convey the information? What is the same? What is different?
Pause for a moment to consider not just what a story says but how it presents the information.NewseumED
The way a source presents the information affects how it impacts you. Look at the style of writing, tone of writing, grammar, image choices, and placement/layout of the information. You can tell a lot about the credibility of a source by how well it’s written and presented. Are there grammar mistakes? Is the tone of the article super emotional or meant to cause panic/fear? What kinds of images are included and do they add to the information or distract?
It’s OK to to use a source that doesn’t have a beautiful website or amazing graphics. Some websites look great but have unreliable content. Take a look at the source as a whole, including the way it’s written, to decide.
Find a news article and rate the following things on a scale of 1-10: clarity (how clearly the author presents the information), style (the author’s tone/how well they engage you), grammar/spelling, images/graphics included, layout/format.
What is the lowest score that a story could get in one of the above areas before you consider it untrustworthy?
That’s all for now! Take the ESCAPE method for a spin and see if it helps you find reliable sources for news and research. I’ll be back on the blog with more advice about using information. Until then, see you, Space Cowboys…