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Navigating Online News and Information (NONI)

Who's Behind This Source of Information? Who Can I Trust?

You can figure out who is behind a source of information by reading laterally and finding trusted sources to help you understand who the people and organizations are that are producing this information and what goals they have in producing it.

QUICK LATERAL READING TIP: Using a search engine, search the name of a person or organization that you want to learn more about and then type "wikipedia" next to the name. Ideally, the top result of your search will be a Wikipedia article on the person or organization, which will almost certainly help you understand their background, worldview, and goals and therefore to help you determine if they are trustworthy.

Who Can You Trust?

Beyond finding information about sources, we must also answer the question of trust more generally: Who Can You Trust?

You can trust:

Who Can You Trust? Sources That Are Forthright In Their Goals

One way you can trust a source is if you believe they are forthright in their goals. For example, most news sites, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, make clear the purpose of information by labeling articles as news reports, news analysis, opinion, paid advertisements, or something else. Each of these types of information has a goal. To consider what goals the producers of information might have, you can use the concept of "Info Zones" from the lesson called "Info Zones."

Specifically, the lesson describes six types or "zones" of information, classified according to the goals the information producer might have when producing information:

  1. To Document - Make documentation of something, e.g., raw cell phone video of an encounter with law enforcement
  2. To Inform - To inform or explain something in a relatively neutral way, e.g., basic news reporting (not opinion or analysis) from reputable news sources
  3. To Persuade - Encourage someone through argumentation (making claims backed by reasons and evidence) to adopt a position or take an action, e.g., an opinion article about a current social or political issue.
  4. To Sell - To persuade someone to buy a product or service, e.g., all advertisements and most influencers on Instagram.
  5. To Entertain - To entertain or amuse an audience with comedy and/or tragedy or something in between, e.g., all television comedies and drama series.
  6. To Provoke - To incite a strong emotional reaction in the audience, e.g., partisan memes that cast political adversaries as morally bankrupt or corrupt.

These categories are not mutually exclusive, and most information will probably have more than one goal. It is not difficult to find sources of information that actually seem to achieve (at least) two goals at once. For example, most news satire shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah are trying to entertain the audience (the primary goal), as well as inform the audience about current events and/or persuade the audience to view current events in a particular way. Another example is a fictional television show whose producers' primary goal is to entertain, but who may also seek to use the show's narrative for social commentary purposes.

Who Can You Trust? Sources That Verify Facts and Information Through Fact Checking Processes, Retract Mistakes and Publish Corrections, and Avow Their Worldviews

Who Can You Trust? The Consensus of Experts with Domain Knowledge

Resources for Lateral Reading and Fact Checking