Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Verifying Information

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

Verifying information you find on the Internet.

Information is Everywhere

Modern technology showers us with masses of information that can be forwarded at the push of a button, often with no thought given to accuracy.

Unfortunately, in an online world full of fake news, accuracy and truthfulness may be difficult to determine.

Online news is one of the hardest things to verify. Sometimes early reports that turn out not to be true still circulate on the Internet, and people may spread false reports for commercial or malicious reasons, or even just for “fun.”
MediaSmarts

Social Media Algorithms Promote Fake News

Facebook's algorithms have made it much too easy for an extremely small number of very active users to massively influence what other people see in their feeds.

If you're invited to join a Facebook QAnon group your feeds will suddenly be full of QAnon posts — all done without any confirmation or engagement on your part.

Post-Truth

Never before has there been so much incorrect information (if not downright lies) flowing into people's lives.

We only see what we want to see on social media — what we already agree with. Our feeds often contain no alternative viewpoints.

Posts are guided more by emotion than hard evidence. Opinions are stated as facts.

The belief that everyone sees a different “truth” and demands 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 are lost in the discussions on social media:

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 viewpoints on such events be so opposite?

Truth Has Become Inconvenient

Truth became 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

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.
FullFact.org

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 written in 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. 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.

You need to educate yourself about how to determine which sources are authoritative: both trusted and knowlegable.

Trusted Sources

Trust is based upon confidence that the content in a resource is accurate.

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

Expert Sources

Expertise requires intimate knowledge of a subject, usually including “lived” experience rather than just book knowledge.

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 is a good example of a trustworthy source. Questionable material is clearly flagged for review.

Authority Sites Usurped

Unfortunately, many former “authority” sites have become nothing more than online infomercials.

Others use fake news to persuade viewers to accept their point of view.

This puts the onus on the reader to verify both the accuracy and the reputation of the site before accepting or promoting its content.

Site Bias

One issue is how the site is paying its bills. What are the products or services offered? Who is sponsoring content.

Site advertising or sponsorship can bias outcomes.

This site does not accept third-party content such as “guest” posts or paid advertising.

Ownership

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, sometimes in the copyright or privacy policy pages.

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?

 

Fact Checkers

Traditional news sites used to be thorough in checking facts, but the need to compete real-time with online content provides like CNN may cause them to spend less time than they used to.

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.

Does the content leave you feeling outraged? Terrified? Upset? Chances are it was engineered to do just that so you'll share it and spread the message without even thinking.
PCmag
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

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

 

Health Information

It is particularly important that you verify information before spreading it when it comes to health information. False information can worsen illnesses or lead to deaths.

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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:

  • Use of strong emotions, not facts.
  • Appeals to insecurities, greed or compassion.
  • Misuse of "authority" names.

Verify the accuracy. Is the content true?

Hoax Resources

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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…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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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/verify.html
Updated: November 6, 2022