Fact Checking and Information Literacy Reference Guide
Between print media, TV stations, personal blogs, internet shows, and social media, our news intake may come from a variety of sources in a range of bias, credibility, and accuracy. No matter where our personal opinions stand, it has become more important than ever to investigate the sources of information we consume. Misinformation and disinformation are more pervasive than we realize – even differences in simple word choices can lead to factual problems.
The Libraries at Motlow State Community College have collected resources meant to help our community improve its ability to fact-check, investigate sources, and become more conscious of implicit biases. Like many of our other skills, information literacy is a continuous learning process where we ask:
…is the author of the article and what is their background? Are they balanced or biased with their portrayal of information?
…else is reporting on the article’s topic? Are other credible sources discussing it?
…website or publication hosts the article? Are they known for publishing/hosting credible and reputable information?
…do fact-checkers have to say about the legitimacy of the article?
…are the original sources for any cited information? Can you verify their credibility? Are the sources used accurately or cherry-picked?
…was the article published? Is the information still up-to-date?
…was the article written? Was it meant to be informative, persuasive, opinion, satire?
…was it written the way it was? Do you feel there may be details or context missing?
…was the article received by peers? Do experts support the article’s information or opinion?
…do you feel about the article? Are you more inclined to believe the information due to your own background or biases?
According to Terry Heick, founder and director of TeachThought, “…lateral reading (as opposed to vertical reading) is the act of verifying what you’re reading as you’re reading it.” This method of source vetting allows readers to determine the credibility, inherent biases, intent, and other information about an article and its author.
There are different approaches to lateral reading, such as the CRAAP Test and the SIFT Method. Take a look at our Methods of Source Evaluation to learn more about these tools to improve your lateral reading skills!
The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. Hosted by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.
The P.R.O.V.E.N. process was developed by Ellen Carey. Use for evaluating a source, which includes examining the source itself and examining other sources by:
Checking for previous work. Has someone already fact-checked this source?
Finding the original source. Who originally published the information and why?
Reading laterally. What do other people say about this publication and author?
Circling back. How can you revise your original search to yield better results?
Checking your own emotions. Is your own bias affecting your evaluation?
“Fake News!” is a phrase that we have read and heard frequently in recent years. But when did it start to become regularly used?
The definition of fake news has expanded to mean a legitimate criticism of false information, an untrue but satirical story, or a type of bad faith argument meant to discredit a credible source. Fake news can be classified by its intent and will land in one of two categories: parody or misinformation.
- Parody, although written to mislead, is intended to be humorous and not taken seriously. Examples of transparently parodic news publications are The Onion, Clickhole, and The Hard Times.
- Misinformation is the spread of false information intended to be taken as truth. Sometimes this can be accidental and without malice, such as the spread of hearsay. Disinformation, however, is false information shared with the intention to do harm, such as in hoaxes or propaganda.
Training ourselves to scrutinize new information will not only help separate true fake news from “fake news,” it will also help uncover the author’s purpose.
Ad Fontes Media has created a constantly-updated graphic plotting the biases and reliability of many popular news and commentary sources. The company uses many independent fact-checkers that lean politically left, right, and center in order to determine the most accurate placement of sources within the Media Bias Chart.
The interactive chart shows a larger variety of source samples which can be viewed by clicking on the image.
While scrolling through social media, a popular figure you follow is showing off a new product or service. The popular figure mentions a handful of positive qualities, which sound good enough for you to investigate a little further. Before you commit to a purchase, take a moment to consider a few things:
Was it a personal recommendation from the popular figure or a paid ad?
Was the discussion of the product or service’s positive points meant to highlight its qualities or simply hype it up?
Did the language make you want to move fast to avoid missing out, become a member of an inclusive group, or engage to avoid feeling guilty?
Seeking answers to these considerations, and more, is a valid method of investigating the intended influence of media. However, influence stretches far beyond media and marketing. Friends, family, and co-workers frequently influence one another in small and large ways - when was the last time you used influence to get what you want or change someone's mind?
Good or bad, influence is an inextricable aspect of society and it is important to know when and how it affects our daily lives.
It's no secret that we are each drawn to things we like. From hobbies, to personal politics, ethical values, and more, we become more receptive to the intake and acceptance of information when they aligns with our own biases. While having biases is not necessarily a bad thing, it is valuable to know that they exist and how they can be managed. It is also important to know how biases found in the world can influence our thoughts and decisions based on our implicit biases - the unconscious attitudes we hold.
Some external biases are more easily visible than others. In certain cases, bias can be seen when someone mentions why they do or do not like something. Other times bias can be easily missed, hidden among adjectives in a speech, the tone of certain words, subtle background images, or many other ways. The more we learn about how to spot biases, the better we can navigate through them.