Parents make multiple daily decisions that impact themselves and their family members. As a parent, you will likely want to use sound judgment and consider relevant and up-to-date information as you make positive and meaningful decisions for your family. However, the amount of information that is available through websites and digital media platforms – on any topic – can be overwhelming. Furthermore, identifying credible information using technology and on the internet can be challenging. Remember, the information available on the internet may not be accurate or used in the way that it may have been intended. There are two different types of incorrect information that will be presented and discussed in this blog post: misinformation and disinformation.
Misinformation is the unintentional sharing of false, inaccurate, or incomplete information (Heiss, 2020). This may include not fully listing all important facts, unintentionally excluding voices or different perspectives that may change the endpoint view, and/or not using information that is current. Memes and satire can fall under this category.
Example: Sharing a picture with a quote that does not belong to the person being quoted. A popular example of this is a picture of President Abraham Lincoln, who died in 1865, being quoted as saying that not everything on the internet is true.
Disinformation is the intentional spread of false in formation. This information is usually shared in ways that align with political or commercial motives (Heiss, 2020). The source may want to sell something or bolster a connection that is beneficial to them by purposely excluding facts and other voices and viewpoints and/or using outdated information (even if it has been proved as false in the past).
Example: Disinformation may come in the form of videos that use high-end technology to make it look and sound like a prominent figure is doing or saying something they did not say. Disinformation could include made up stories that intend to change public perception, or it may perpetuate conspiracy theories and/or rumors to sway the public to believe or buy something.
So, how do you find credible information that is accurate and current, so you can make sound decisions as you keep your family safe? Consider following the suggestions listed below.
Use Fact Checking Websites
One of the methods you can try to use is a fact-checking website. Examples of some fact-checking websites are listed below. Fact-checking websites compile information on popular topics that are being circulated, discussed, and/or reported and populate that information into articles. The articles state what is being said about a given topic – even when it needs to cover multiple perspectives – and fact check the information using relevant sources to produce a determination about the validity of the information (based on facts). Each article contains links to all of the identified sources, and users are encouraged to perform their own research. Website users are also invited to ask questions, electronically, about information they may have seen or heard.
Some credible fact checking websites to use are as follows:
www.factcheck.org – This website is a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. They are working with Facebook.com to combat fake news and the spread of misinformation and disinformation in social media.
www.snopes.com – This is a website that is designed to fact check popular articles to show the validity of the information contained within the article. At the bottom of each article, a list of all of the resources that were used to fact check is presented. In addition, readers are encouraged to use additional resources to fact check (instead of just taking their word for it).
www.fullfact.org – This website is hosted by a charity organization based in London, England, and is comprised of people from different political backgrounds who fact check the information and supply their findings to site users.
A few websites that should be avoided due to misinformation or disinformation are as follows:
Wikipedia – This website can be edited by anyone. No fact checking is done, and no resources are usually listed.
Satire Websites (e.g., Buzzfeed, The Onion) – These websites often post inflammatory and intentionally false articles to entertain readers; however, the information in the articles could be mistaken as factual by some readers.
Research the Topic Further
Another method for fact checking is to further research your topic of interest using a search engine like Google (McManus, 2020). In the search bar, type in the basic idea of the article, and see what other information or articles come up. Are major news articles reporting on it? If not, the information may not be valid. If major new articles are reporting on the issue, you may be able to examine additional information on the topic or find missing facts that can increase your knowledge and guide your decisions.
Watch for common red flags that may indicate the article is not factual or may be trying to gain a specific reaction (McManus, 2020):
- Inflammatory language
- Name calling
- Broad generalizations
- Exclamation points
- WORDS ARE ALL IN CAPS
An alternative fact-checking method is to use different tests, or questionnaires, to determine the accuracy of information. McManus (2020) offers the SMELL test, which was designed to help users critically look at information and sources. This test is outlined below, and the information is derived from the original chapter content in Detecting Bull: How to Identify Bias and Junk Journalism in Print, Broadcast and on the Wild Web (McManus, 2020).
- Who or where is providing the information?
- A traditional news outlet, a special interest group, a neighborhood blogger
- Are they credible?
- Education sites
- Government information
- Research institutes
- Does the source have an agenda that would be furthered by sharing the information?
- Who is funding the source?
- Is the source receiving money for sharing this?
- Why is this source sharing this information?
- Does this information inform, entertain, or persuade you in a certain direction?
- Entertainers are not bound by facts.
- Persuasive wording can present information in a way that highlights topics that may direct your attention in a specific direction regardless of the facts.
- Are there resources available?
- Did the website add links to sites and cite other sources?
- Do the sites offer information that supports their message?
- Is the evidence logical?
- Does this information agree with or support what you already know?
- Information and research change; however, if the information is drastically different from what you know, you may want to do more investigating!
- Is there missing information?
- Is it intentional?
- Are there relevant facts or voices absent or marginalized?
- .edu websites are considered educational resources and are largely considered trustworthy. These tend to be universities or educational institutions.
- .gov websites are government-affiliated websites and are often considered credible and tend to have citations listed with information.
- .org websites are used by advocacy or non-profit organizations. You may need to determine if the information from these sources is unbiased and cited.
- .com websites contain some commercial aspect. They can be credible but be sure to check citations and for any potential bias.
Another test that could be used to determine the accuracy of information is the CRAAP test. California State University librarians developed this test to help determine if sources are credible since credibility is an important part of the information-literacy skill (George, 2022). The CRAAP Test, although created with academics in mind, can be used by anyone when they evaluate sources. By using the questions below, taken directly from the CRAAP test (California State University, 2010), you can evaluate resources and information to determine the validity of the information being shared.
Currency: the timeliness of the information.
- When was the information published or posted?
- Has the information been revised or updated?
- Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
- Are the links functional?
Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs.
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your questions?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advances for your needs)?
- Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
- Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?
Authority: the source of the information.
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
- Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
- Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
- Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
Purpose: the reason the information exists.
- What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
Misinformation and disinformation can spread quickly through technology. Knowing how to evaluate and find accurate information, understanding the kinds of information you should be looking for, and realizing how you can validate that information are important skills that you can acquire and use to protect you and your family. Consider using one of the techniques, listed above, the next time you read an article about a topic that can affect your family. If you would like to learn more about finding information, misinformation, and/or fact checking, review the additional resources below.
California State University. (2010, September 17). Evaluating information: Applying the CRAAP test. https://library.csuchico.edu/sites/default/files/craap-test.pdf
George, T. (2022, November 4). Applying the CRAAP test & evaluating sources. Scribbr. https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/craap-test/
George, T. (2022, December 7). What are credible sources & how to spot them. Scribbr. https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/credible-sources/
Heiss, R. (2020). Fighting health infodemics: The role of citizen empowerment. Eurohealth.https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/338919/Eurohealth-26-3-23-25-eng.pdf
McManus, J. (2017). Detecting bull: How to identify bias and junk journalism in print, broadcast and on the wild web (3rd ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Nguyen, C. T. (2018). Escape the echo chamber. Aeon.co. https://aeon.co/essays/why-its-as-hard-to-escape-an-echo-chamber-as-it-is-to-flee-a-cult
World Health Organization. (2020). Infodemic management. https://www.who.int/teams/risk-communication/infodemic-management