Authenticating & Evaluating Information
Think critically about all information that you encounter! Thinking critically about information is especially important when considering online resources because there are no rules on the Web. Anyone is free to post anything on the web regardless of the truth of the information or the expertise or intentions of the writer. “Fake news” and “deep fake” videos are just a couple of examples of deliberately misleading disinformation that is proliferating on the Internet. We all need to know how to determine if we should believe what we see, hear or read online. It takes a bit of time, but it is a vital process.
The basic checklist below will also help you to evaluate information in various forms/media, including the internet.
Step 1: Authorship? Who? Qualifications? Affiliations?
- Who is the author?
- Does the author have an association with a university, company, or organization?
- Is the author considered an expert on the subject?
- Is there a way to contact the author?
Step 2: Balanced Presentation? Bias? Agenda?
- Is there an obvious point of view or favour given to one side of an issue?
- Is the language used emotional or sensational?
- Is the author trying to convince or persuade?
- Does the author have a specific agenda or purpose?
Step 3: Content and Scope of Coverage?
- Are sources cited?
- Is the site comprehensive or is there limited information?
- Are there useful links?
- Would you find more useful information elsewhere? i.e. in other formats?
- Is the information at a suitable level? Does it make sense to you?
- Is the information relevant? Does the information meet your research needs?
Step 4: Currency of Information? Last Update?
- When was the site last updated? If you are dealing with a current issue, has anything happened since the last update that would make the information invalid or out of date?
- Are there dead links? (A problem when a site is not kept up-to-date.)
- Note: For historical topics that are not time sensitive and where the information is contained on the web site, updates are not as important.
Step 5: Address? .edu? .org? .com? . gov? .ca?
There are two letter addresses for countries. In the USA and Canada these may follow a two letter address for province or state. e.g. bc.ca for BC, or ca.us for California.
- .edu is an education site
- .org is an organization
- .com is a commercial enterprise, company, e.g. cnn.com
- .gov is a government or government department
- .ca is Canada
- Is the web site recommended by an educational institution? A university, school library, public library?
- Is the web site recommended in a curriculum database or a textbook?
This may or not guarantee authority. Be careful! Not all education sites have a .edu address. e.g., our school site is https://lfmss.sd35.bc.ca/
Step 6: Verification? This is the most important step in making sure that you have reliable information.
- Is the information accurate?
- Find other sources that support the facts.
- Find out about the author. Check for magazine articles, books, biographies, articles by and about the author.
While it is important to recognize all of these factors, it does not necessarily exclude the use of information. Consider the facts presented and verify them with other sources.
For more information, advice, examples and checklists on how to authenticate or verify information in various online media, try: Media Smarts’ Authentication 101
REMINDER: You must cite (list/reference) your sources when completing research! You must always tell your reader where you found your information and give credit to the person who actually authored the work you are using. Refer to Bibliographies+
“Authority on the Internet”. March 1996. Prince of Wales Secondary School Library. 06June2016 http://pw2.vsb.bc.ca/library/author.htm