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ITE-152: Digital and Information Literacy Modules

Evaluate Sources

When evaluating either online or print resources for a research assignment or paper, ask the following questions from the evaluation criteria checklist below:

Evaluation Criteria Checklist - The 5 W's

Who?

  • Who is the author? Is an author listed?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Does the author's education or experience qualify them as an authority on the topic they are writing about?
  • What institution or organization is the author affiliated with?
  • Is contact information listed for the author?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is the source written for professionals or the general public?

What?

  • What is the purpose of the information - to educate, entertain, inform, persuade, sell?
  • What type of resource is it? (e.g., advertisement, blog, journal, magazine or newspaper article)
  • What information in this resource should I use in my assignment and how should I use it?
  • Is the information relevant to my topic or does it answer my research questions?
  • Is the information objective or does it contain any biases?
  • Are there any advertisements or sponsors?
 Where?
  • Where does the information come from? (e.g., database, organization, sponsor, .edu, .gov, .org, .com)
  • Where can I look to find out more about the publisher or sponsor?  
  • Where can I use this resource in my assignment?

When?

  • When was the resource published or last updated? Is a publication date listed?
  • Is the information timely or is it outdated?
  • Does my topic require current information? (e.g., science or technology topic)
  • Will older resources be acceptable or preferred? (e.g., history topic or primary source)
  • Do the links on the webpage or website still work?
Why?
  • Why should I use this resource for my assignment?
  • Why is this resource relevant to my thesis?
  • Why is this resource better to use in my assignment than other resources?
  • Does the source add new information to the topic I am researching or does it simply repeat or summarize other perspectives?

Additional Information

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources

There are four broad categories of news sources, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

  • Category 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
  • Category 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information, or present opinion pieces as news.
  • Category 3: Websites which sometimes use hyperbolic or clickbait-y headlines and/or social media descriptions, but may otherwise circulate reliable and/or verifiable information.  
  • Category 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news.

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.) Some articles fall under more than one category. It is up to you to critically evaluate your sources to determine if they are reliable or not.

Deepfakes

A deepfake is a phony video that looks real. With the increasing advancements in computer performance and techniques, face swap superimposes a face onto the face of someone else in a video. The result is that anybody can be made to look like they love or hate anything. The video can be produced entirely by using actors, whose faces are replaced with a celebrity such as a movie star, politician or news anchor, and it appears very real to the casual viewer. See face swap.

As deepfake video techniques improve, there are onerous implications for the future. Videos are highly persuasive when they "supposedly" come from prominent people. Although computer analysis can likely determine a fake video even as they get more realistic, that detection is after the fact and after the damage is done. (Definition taken from PC Magazine Encyclopedia)

Additional Information

Melissa Zimdars's Tips for Analyzing News Sources

The weekend after the United States presidential election, Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College, learned that the top result returned by a Google search about the election's popular vote was to an article claiming that Trump carried the popular vote. Not true. Hillary Clinton had over one million more votes than Trump. This article was on an untrustworthy news site and caused Professor Zimdars to compile suggestions on how to spot a fake news site. Her suggestions are:

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” (e.g., Newslo). These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources.
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
  • If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Fact checking resources