Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Verifying Information

Authoritative Sources | Fact Checkers | Effective Searches
Hoaxes & Urban Legends | Fake News

Verifying information you find on the Internet.

Information is Everywhere

Never has there every been so much information available to so many people with such ease.

Unfortunately, accuracy and truthfulness are less readily determined.

Hoaxes, myths and urban legends are all too common.

Accuracy is Questionable

Never before has there been so much incorrect information (if not downright lies).

Opinions are stated as facts. We see posts guided more by emotion than hard evidence.

Truth No Longer Absolute

Social media has allowed us to choose to see only what we agree with.

The belief that everyone sees a different “truth” and needs to be sheltered from alternative points of view should concern everyone.

Truth has degraded into post-truth where emotion and what we believe is seen as more important than the facts.

January 6 Riots in Washington

Consider the January 6, 2021 riots in Washington, DC as an example. This event was seen by Democrats as an attempted insurrection while Republicans thought it was about protecting democracy and the US Constitution.

Facts, like the lack of guns at the Capitol and the minimal damages in comparison to the Black Lives Matter riots are lost in the discussions on social media as seen by Democrats but not Republicans:

Context: The Left's Summer of Violence in 2020 injured 15x more police officers, incurred 23x more arrests, and was 1300x more costly than the riot at the Capitol.
Michelle Tandler on Twitter

How can the relative take on such an event be so opposite and so lacking in truth?

Truth Has Become Inconvenient

Truth has become an inconvenience in the pursuit of “social justice” and equality.

Critical theory sees all knowledge as social construction. It believes in “discourses” rather than truth. It sees language as capable of inflicting violence if the words support discourses that have been deemed harmful. It rejects the tenets of liberalism as growing out of, and supporting, bias and bigotry. Debating harmful ideas, according to critical theory, would only increase the damage. The goal is therefore to shut down all harmful discourse.
Tara Henley

One person tweeted that he found it strange that California, a state that never held slaves, was looking for ways to compensate minorities for past harms.

Truth has been replaced by fake news, usually involving political motivation, whether it be a group opposed to government policies or the ambitions of a foreign country.

It threatens trust — the very foundation of democracies everywhere.

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people's health, and hurts democracy.

You want to ensure that the information you've searched for is accurate and current, especially before your forward it to someone else.

Critical thinking shouldn't just be a synonym for doubting or debunking something, and the point of research isn't simply to poke holes in a story. It's to understand the story better, or — if somebody is telling that story maliciously or incompetently — to get deep enough to find the truth.
Adi Robertson

History has always been subject to the perspective of those writing it.

There's a tendency when you read about history to see it as the capital-T Truth. History books we read in school tend to portray themselves as an objective account of past events. They are anything but.
Taylor Pearson

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Finding Authoritative Sources

At one time information was published only by authoritative organizations such as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

While you might question the bias of such organizations, it did make decisions about trusting the information less complicated.

The Internet has made it easy for anyone to publish. Self-managed websites, blogs and social media are everywhere.

Whether people search for personal health information or for a loved one, millions of consumers view millions of health-related web pages. Sometimes the information found is just what was needed. Other searches end in frustration or retrieval of inaccurate, even dangerous, information.
Medical Library Association

Today, anyone with a computer or cellphone can become a “publisher” whether or not they have any knowledge or legitimate experience.

Now you need to educate yourself about how to determine which sources are authoritative sources — trusted sources or expert sources.

Trusted Sources

A trusted source has a good track record and a clear process for getting facts right, like a reputable news organization.

Expert Sources

An expert source, like a recognized scientist or health expert, has knowledge of that specific topic. Being an expert in one area doesn't make someone an expert in everything. Would you ask a psychiatrist to replace a filling? — CheckThenShare

Wikipedia has thousands of people vetting information. Questionable material is clearly flagged for review.

Authority Sites Usurped

Many former “authority” sites have become nothing more than online infomercials or have generated fake news to promote their interests.

This puts the onus on the reader to verify and qualify both the content and the “publisher” of such information.

Determine Ownership

Consumer reports and product comparisons are biased unless carried out by truly independent researchers. Site advertising can bias outcomes.

One way to verify bias is to seek out the ownership of the site.

  • I've discovered that many of the once-decent medical information portals have been purchased or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and the available information has changed.
  • Many consumer alert sites, especially related to medical devices, are merely fronts for U.S. law firms looking for clients.
  • Some sites promote the interests of cults like Scientology yet don't mention their ownership.

It is sometimes difficult to determine ownership, because the site owner wants to attract links from other sites. Only when you spend time investigating the site can the real sponsor and purpose is revealed.

Compare Sources

Another method is to compare various sources to see how they agree or disagree on the main points.

  • Widespread agreement doesn't necessarily prove validity.
  • Conspiracy theories aside, common educational backgrounds and sources of information can lead different researchers to come to the same conclusions, even incorrect ones.
  • Examine the information you find with some skepticism. Do your conclusions match what you've read?

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Fact Checkers

Social media, unconstrained by editorial fact-checking or any ethical base, has little control over how information is pitched, while curated traditional media is subject to technical and ethical guidelines, imposed by professional journalists and editors.
Geoff Johnson

These sites can help you determine if what you're reading is true or not.

Sharing Information

Learn to recognize misleading information before you share it and put your own reputation on the line.

The best defense is to ask critical questions, so you can learn to recognize the difference between a harmless parody and a hoax, between content that's intentionally misleading or just poorly researched, and to spot red flags and unreliable sources.
Data Detox

Health Information

It is particularly important that you verify information before spreading it when it comes to health information. See for details.

Help stop the spread of misinformation! Check first. Share after.



Hoaxes & Urban Legends

Social media (and email) too often promotes false information that disrupts our perception of what is truth.

A false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. False stories outperform the truth on every subject — including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment — fake news about politics regularly does best.
Soroush Vosoughi

Features like the following should make you suspicious:

  • Hoaxes use emotional rather than factual approaches to lure you in.
  • Hoaxes depend on our concern for our computers (such as "virus" warnings) or greed (chain letters that pay big dividends) or compassion for others (such as saving a sick child).
  • Many cite "authority" sources that have nothing to do with the post.

Check reliable authority sites to see if the content of the post or email is accurate.

Hoax Resources

  • has an extensive categorized listing of urban legends and rumours.
  • lists rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests and calls to action with details about their truth or fiction.

Unfortunately, Hoax-Slayer has shut down their website, but will continue debunking email hoaxes and exposing Internet scams via Twitter.

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Fake News

Fake news is publication of news that is false or misleading. Posts play on our emotions or build upon distrust. People forward it out of ignorance or with malicious intent.

The most common form of visual misinformation is a so-called cheap fake (aka a “shallow fake”). Cheap fakes are misleading content that doesn't require sophisticated technology, but instead can be created by putting the wrong headline or caption on a photo or video or using outdated visuals to illustrate a current event.
Data Detox Kit

Some countries are using fake news to attack the credibility of our leaders and to destabilize democracies.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

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Updated: July 18, 2022