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Evaluating News, Social Media & Other Online Sources: Tips for evaluating news sources & websites

Developing best practices when searching for and reading articles online

Potential Steps for Analyzing Websites

Web Address/URL Analysis

About Us Analysis

Source Analysis

Writing Style Analysis

Aesthetic Analysis

Social Media Analysis


Step 1: Web Address/URL Analysis  Take a look at the URL of the website. If you notice any slight variation of a well known website this is usually a sign there is a problem. Keep an eye out for sites ending in .com.co. You also want to avoid websites that end in "lo" ex: Newslo. These sites take pieces of accurate information and then package that information with other false of misleading "facts" (sometimes for the purposes of satire of comedy). 

Step 2: About Us Analysis I usually Google every website name/anyone listed in the "About Us" section to see if anyone has previously reported on the website (snopes, hoax-slayer, polifact, factcheck.org, etc.) or whether it has a wikipedia page or something similar detailing its background. This is useful for identifying and correctly categorizing lesser known and/or new websites that may be on the up-and-up, such as satirical sources or websites that are explicit about their political orientation.

Step 3: Source Analysis Does the website mention/link to a study or source? Look up the source/study. Do you think it's being accurately reflected and reported? Are officials being cites? Can you confirm their quotes elsewhere? Some media literacy and critical scholars call this triangulation: Verify details, facts, quotes, etc. with multiple sources.

Step 4: Writing Style Analysis  Does it frequently use ALL CAPS in headlines and/or body text? Does the headline or body of the text use words like WOW!, SLAUGHTER!, DESTROY!? This stylistic practice and these types of hyperbolic word choices are often used to create emotional responses with readers that is avoided in more traditional journalism.

Step 5: Aesthetic Analysis Many (but not all) fake and questionable news sites utilize very bad design. This is kind of a "I know it when I see it" type thing, but usually the screens are cluttered and they use heavy-handed photo shopping or born digital images

Step 6: Social Media Analysis In addition to Step 2, look up the website on Facebook or Twitter. Do the headlines and posts rely on sensational or provocative language - aka clickbait - in order to attract attention and encourage likes, clickthroughs, and shares? Do the headlines and social media descriptions match or accurately reflect the content of the linked article? 

Other things to keep in mind

  • Check to see if known/reputable news sites are reporting on the story. If not, watch out. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner or particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • It's always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames

Articles

"Stopping the proliferation of fake news isn't just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news also need to find ways of determining if what they're reading is true."

Source

This information comes from Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College. To learn more, please visit the Google Doc. link below.