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So I Saw This Meme on the Internet…
How to evaluate political and current events news you see online
What did you see?
- Is it a meme shared on Facebook? These can be very entertaining, but they aren’t typically based on fact.
- Try Googling the information on the meme to see what websites come out to support or refute it.
- Is it a satire site such as The Onion or the Borowitz Report? Satire is a legitimate form of political commentary, but it isn’t meant to express the literal facts.
- Is it a nonpartisan site such as politifact.com or snopes.com? You can usually trust these.
- Is it from a major newspaper such as the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal? These are usually fact-based. Editorials are opinion, but usually educated opinion.
- Is more than one news source reporting on the event or issue, or just one?
- Can you find peer-reviewed journal articles or library books about the general topic? Even though these may not contain information on specific very recent news items, you can get a good factual background from them.
What should you look for?
- Verifiable facts and statistics, not rumors or wild claims. Just because it “sounds right” or seems to confirm something you already believe doesn’t mean it is actually true.
- Citing sources – just as you cite sources in your research papers, Internet news should do the same. If they don’t clearly state where they got their information, there is no evidence for it being correct.
- Who paid for or sponsored the content? If you can find out who supports it, you can see what viewpoint it is coming from.
- Does the website URL end in “lo” or “com.co”? These are usually not legitimate news sources.
- The website should have an “About Us” or similar tab to let you learn more about them.
- Who is the author? Is he or she a subject expert or a professional journalist? If not, or if you can’t find out who the author is, be careful about trusting the material.
- Try using an advance Google search to search only .gov or .edu
That can't be fake
Check the account history of the source. Two red flags are: the number of posts and how long the account has been active. If it claims to be a well know source (like CNN or CBS) and only has a few posts in its history that is a clue. If it's a well-known source and the account has only been active a short time that is another red flag.
Images of an event are often reused to deceive people. You can check if an image has been used before on a reverse image search service like TinEye.