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Assessing the Credibility of Online Information

With an increasing use of the internet, people all over the world now have access to an abundance of information and resources on every given topic. In addition to consuming content, internet users also have the power to create their own content through videos, blogs, social media posts, and more. With new content being created and published regularly to the web, how do we separate the information that is true and factual, from the information that may be biased and lacking in credibility? 

Credible content is consistently trustworthy.

When consuming information on the internet, always critique the source of the information and assess whether it is credible or not. This article highlights a few key aspects that you should pay attention to when consuming information and accessing resources online.

The Author

Who is the author? Online articles can seem professional and credible in its layout and presentation. However, the author may not be an expert on the topic they are writing about. When reading an article, it’s a good idea to do a quick background check on the author to determine whether they have the relevant experience and expertise necessary to be writing their article. Often, a quick search may reveal a LinkedIn profile outlining their professional background, or related articles and organizations that the author has contributed to in the past. If information on the author cannot be found online, this is a good reason to proceed with caution when reading their content. 

Who published the article? If an author’s information is unavailable, explore the website the article is published on, and try to assess the organization that published this article.

  • Who is this organization trying to serve and why? 
  • What is their mission, vision and values? 
  • Is the website asking you to share your personal information? 
  • Is the website clearly biased in their content, or do they publish objective content?
  • Why are they writing this article (for educational purposes, or for product/service endorsement)? 

 

Why did the author write this article? There are instances where authors are paid to endorse specific products or services. As a result, the author’s article can be heavily biased in favour of the product or service they are writing about. When this happens, the reader walks away misinformed, as they are not provided with all of the information required to make an informed and unbiased opinion. 

Misinformation is information that is inaccurate, misleading and not supported by facts.

What is the author’s position on the topic? When the author is only exploring one perspective to an issue, this bias can affect the credibility of their article. A biased article only shows readers one side of the story. When consuming information online, readers should be aware of every perspective surrounding the topic under discussion, in order to make a well-informed decision for themselves.

Writing with bias is the act of placing an unfair preference for a specific opinion or idea over another.

 

The Content

When reading an article, it’s important to assess the content and ask the following questions.

When was the article published? If the article was written a few years ago, the information, data and facts presented, may now be outdated. Research is constantly producing new findings, therefore it is good practice to also seek out recent information to ensure you are aware of all arguments, findings, and perspectives that surround the topic.

Where did the information come from? Articles will often make statements or claims that may seem factual. When such claims are made, ensure that the author has provided citations and references (a list of sources for the information they have provided) to support their arguments or statements. If references have been provided, this allows the reader to dig deeper. Readers can search the references provided and do a similar background check on the sources, to ensure the authors and their content are credible.

What are other sources writing about? Before taking on a specific position or perspective, it’s always best to review multiple sources to help mitigate bias. This includes articles on a similar topic that are published by different authors, websites and organizations. Do other sources support the position of the article you are currently reading? Do the other sources explore new areas that your current article does not explore? This process of searching through multiple sources for credible content, is called research. 

 

The Reader

As the person actively seeking out information online, you the reader must beware of exclusively reading information that confirms or reinforces your existing opinions or beliefs about a particular topic. This is called Confirmation Bias. 

Confirmation Bias is the process of searching for or interpreting information that confirms one’s existing beliefs.

 


 
Article Summary

How to separate the information that is true and factual, from the information that may be biased and lacking in credibility.

The Author

  • Conduct a background check on the author to determine whether they have the relevant experience necessary to be writing their article. If an author’s information is unavailable, assess the website the article is published on, and/or the organization the author may be representing.
  • Assess the motivation of the author when writing the article. For instance, is the author being paid by a company to endorse products or services through their articles, or are they simply writing to educate the public and share their knowledge?
  • Assess the author’s position on the topic, and ensure they are not writing a biased article. A biased article only shows readers one side of the story. Readers should be aware of every perspective surrounding a topic under discussion, in order to make a well-informed decision for themselves.

 

The Content

  • Check the publication date of the article. If the article was written a few years ago, the information, data and facts presented, may now be outdated.
  • When claims or statements are made, ensure the author has provided references or sources to support their arguments.
  • Review multiple sources on the topic to help mitigate bias.

 

The Reader

  • Beware of confirmation bias, which is the process of searching for or interpreting information that confirms one’s existing beliefs.

 

References

Google. (n.d.). Evaluate credibility of online sources: Teaching Materials – Applied Digital Skills. Google. Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/c/middle-and-high-school/en/evaluate-credibility-of-online-sources/materials.html.

University of Toronto Libraries. (n.d.). Essential research skills: Choosing the best sources. Research guides. Retrieved August 15, 2021, from https://guides.library.utoronto.ca/c.php?g=251905&p=1675733.