Fake News took the world by storm in 2016 and is still a major issue for many social media sites and search engines.
Despite efforts taken to filter out such stories, many consumers still fall victim to promoting stories that are misleading or dishonest.
This is a major problem for consumers because according to Pew Research Center, people under age 50 get half of their news online and for those under 30, online news is twice as popular as TV news.
As a college student, it is important to understand how to evaluate a website's credibility before referencing them on a paper. Here are five quick ways to evaluate a website's credibility.
"Who are you? Who, who, who, who?"
Checking the author is an efficient way to verify the legitimacy of an article. Research their name and determine if they are Joe-Schmo or a high-profile subject-matter expert.
If there is no author listed, you should approach the article with a lot of skepticism.
A tip from Harvard University is to, "read the 'About Us' section for more insight into the publisher, leadership.. mission statement [and] confirm that you have not stumbled upon a satirical news site, like the Onion."
The sooner the better.
Sometimes old and out-dated articles resurface on the internet because of a topic that is trending. In order to steer clear of using old content, check for the published date. If it wasn't recently published, proceed with caution.
A website is only as good as its sources.
Reputable websites are also going to have plenty of sources, footnotes, and/or backlinks to other content that supports the article.
Another way to quickly determine if your content is reputable is through a quick Google search. If you find other content with similar information available, you're golden.
Start with the URL, then reference the design.
The quickest way to check the legitimacy of an article is to review the URL. Because anyone can purchase a URL, it is always safest to reference articles that end with .gov or .edu.
That being said, news articles can provide a timeline of facts for students who might be reviewing current events. When referencing news articles, pay special attention to the URL. For example www.CNN.com is the official news site of CNN, however, a URL of www.CNN.com.co could still be purchased and used to promote false stories.These small changes to the URL can trick a consumer into believing an outrageous story because on first glance it looks legitimate.
Although a bit subjective, a website's design can also be an indication of the legitimacy of the content. A legitimate website is more likely to have a good design in order to comply with accessibility standards.
Read between the lines.
When evaluating a website, grammar truly matters. Legitimate organizations will often use professional copywriters so their website should not have any misspellings and should be free of grammatical errors.
Other common red flags include:
- Bolded copy
- CRAZY Capitilization
- Dramatic punctuation???!?!?!!?
- Lots and lots of adjectives
Still not convinced?
Ask the pros.
An article by Harvard University recommends using websites such as Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), or PolitiFact.com to check credibility of a website or news article.