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Evaluating Online Information

Evaluating Social Media Sources

Ask yourself questions about the source / social media account:

  • Monitor your own reaction to the post based upon your relationship with the person who shared it. Are you more or less likely to trust this because of who sent it to you? Why?
  • How old is the account?  If it is a new account with little history, be wary.
  • Is it an active account?  Are other stories / images posted to this account of a consistent quality?
  • Where is the account registered?  Can you identify a verifiable author for its posts?
  • Can you tell any of the following re: the author(s): recent location, activity, reliability?
  • Are the author(s) located in the area they are tweeting / posting about?
  • Are there associated accounts on other social media platforms related to this one that may provide additional information?
  • Who is in their network and who follows them?

Ask yourself questions about the content:

  • Can you find the original source?  If the post relies heavily on an image, you can use a reverse image search to find where it may have originated.
  • Identify keywords that will help you find other instances of the image (or video) online.  This can lead you to the earliest instance of it, and the source.
  • Once you find the source of an item, appraise that source like you would a traditional news story.  Can you corroborate the information from other sources?
  • Is there context for this content?  Are other posts related, and do they fill in additional details?

Seeking Multiple Perspectives

decorative imageOn social media and in online search results, algorithms can limit the information you’re likely to discover. Algorithms collect data about our actions online, such as what we search for or which social media accounts we follow, and use this information to guide us to posts or search results that we are likely to find engaging or useful. 

Eli Pariser's 2011 Ted Talk popularized the phrase 'filter bubble' to describe how algorithms impact us on social media:  "As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a 'filter bubble' and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview." It is important to note that there has been more recent research that shows that "growth in polarization in recent years is largest for the demographic groups least likely to use the internet and social media.” Still, the issue remains that social media can limit the variety of perspectives we’re likely to encounter online.

To counter the effects of algorithms, it’s important to intentionally seek out a variety of perspectives on an issue, especially if you’re planning to share information about a topic on social media. One way to do this is to use AllSides to explore news stories about a topic from the left, right, and center. AllSides is an organization that analyzes media bias and curates news sources from a range of political perspectives. You can browse current news stories or search for specific news topics. 

Practice your Social Media Information Savvy

Apply your skills and test whether or not you should share that post with the resources below.