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An unfettered press has been upheld as essential for democratic self-governance given the media’s role in influencing and relaying public opinion, and providing and conveying information on issues of public importance. While digital, social and online media pose challenges for democratic practices and institutions, and for the civic function of the media, they are also transforming the ways communities communicate and share information. In this complex and changing mediascape, it is more challenging for individuals to evaluate the information broadcast through digital and social media, including distinguishing between credible sources and those propagating misinformation and disinformation. Even as we have individual responsibility to evaluate the information we consume, we must also ask what kind of media do publics need and should they demand to ensure democratic accountability and self-governance.

On this page, we’ve compiled some recommended resources to help you develop skills and habits for evaluating online information.

Four Moves and A Habit

The DigiPo Project at the American Democracy Project suggests these four steps and a habit for evaluating online information sources.

The Habit: Check Your Emotions

If you’re having a strong emotional reaction, whether it’s anger, frustration, or validation, take a moment and pause. At these times, your critical perspective might be diminished when you should be fact-checking. Slow down and use your moves!

Move 1: Check for Previous Work

Many provocative claims on the Internet have already been fact-checked or researched. News coverage, trusted online sites, or fact-checking sites, such as Politifact or Snopes, may have a synthesis of the evidence readily available.

Move 2: Go Upstream to the Source

Check the embedded web links or perform a search to find the original or search for the source of information.

Move 3: Read Laterally

Not all sources are created equal. If you are unsure about the quality of your source, read laterally across other trustworthy sites to find more information about the platform or author.

Move 4: Circle Back

Sometimes reading laterally will suggest that a source is not accurate, is more complex than you thought or leads to a dead end. Stop and use what you have learned to being a better-informed search.

Further Reading: Mike Caulfield, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers  (2017)

Does It Pass the CRAAP Test*?

Another tool to evaluate information is the CRAAP Test developed by Sarah Blakeslee and a team of librarians at California State University, Chico. This acronym will help you think of key questions to consider when you are presented with information.

  1. Currency - is the information timely and relevant?
  2. Reliability - what is the depth of coverage on the information?
  3. Authority - what is the source of the information?
  4. Accuracy - is the content truthful and correct?
  5. Point of View - We all have biases, what is the bias of the author(s) or presented in the information?

Further readings: The Madison Research Essentials Toolkit (MRE Toolkit) prepared by JMU Libraries.

Fact or Fiction?

Here are a few trustworthy resources that can help decipher biases, and what is fact or fiction.

The Flip Side is on a mission to help bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives.
 It's a one-stop shop for smart, concise summaries of political analysis from both conservative and liberal media.

Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant. The AllSides Bias Rating is based on a crowd-driven, patented technology.

FactCheck.org is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with a mission to serve as a "consumer advocate for voters" by eliminating deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

Washington Post Fact Checker is the website and an accompanying Sunday column that seeks to fact check and clarify topics related to news and politics.

Snopes offers a variety of resources on misinformation from urban legends to news stories of the day.

Media Bias Fact Check attempts to categorize and track various online sources based on their political leaning and rate of accurate reporting.

Real or Satire is a site where you can search for a URL to check if it is a satirical site. Real or Satire is a binary attempt at sorting various news sources, but has been criticized for not revealing their process.

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