Brains: On

As I mentioned in my last post Escape the Void, it is not easy to differentiate between false and true information in journalism. Especially in the age of online media, it has become increasingly harder for the reader to see what is actual fact or simply made up, or something in between. Lets have a look at some possibilities to deal with this challenge!

The post Content, context and code: verifying information online by Paul Bradshaw on onlinejournalismblog offers several starting points to check the reliability of items of online journalism. These are actually guidelines for journalists to make sure the information they find is reliable. Although these tips might be a bit too hard to apply in daily life for regular people, there are some advices definitely worth thinking about, which you can have a look at here:

• Frequency

Sources that are updated more frequently are unlikelier to be unreliable, or at least deliberately untrue. This might be because it is a lot of work to update a source, and people concentrated on creating short-term confusion with unreliable information would not make the effort.

• Style & Spelling

One aspect easily to be checked is the style and spelling of the information you’re examining. Spelling mistakes imply a certain grade of unprofessionalism, and a tone that doesn’t fit the source is also an indicator for an unreliable source. Sometimes it’s all it takes to analyse the outer appearance of the text to see whether the pieces fit together or not.

• Social Context

Investigate whether the character you’re concentrating on is situated in a position in social media that seems to be sound. If the person does not follow (or is not followed) by friends, colleagues, or other persona that would fit into the image, be suspicious. Also, you might want to check for how long the account has been existing: If it was created just before the story you’re checking on happened, consider the unreliability of this account.

• Web Address Extensions

Watch out for extensions like .gov, gov.uk or similar ones – those imply a governmental website. Also, the extension .ac or .edu points to an academic website, whereas health websites would use .nhs. There are more examples to see the potential background of a website, but keep in mind that these hints to backgrounds are, as I said, potential. It is also possible that others have obtained these endings of web addresses. Nonetheless, they are at least more reliable than .com websites, which offer no security.

• Too Good to Be True

Last, but not least: Rely on your common sense! If the article you just read contains information that doesn’t really make sense or is very unlikely to happen, you should admit a healthy dose of doubt. Additionally, be aware that information shared via social media might be a bait to hook naïve minds.

This is the advice I can give you, dear reader, on your way along numerous kinds of information you will meet every day. It is one of the most important, and also hardest, challenges of our time to distinguish between treasure and garbage, what is worth reading and what is not. I wish you the best of luck in your attempt to survive this task. Lets not forget to switch our brains on; sometimes that’s all we need!

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