Q: How do I know the information I read online is accurate?

A: In today’s digital world so much of our information is garnered from online sources. Learning how to spot false information and how to navigate the online world safely is more important than ever.

There are two types of invalid information to look out for, misinformation and disinformation. Disinformation is intentionally misleading while misinformation is unintentionally misleading. These false stories can spread quickly when shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to get caught up in sharing stories that elicit an emotional response. But people may share articles without reading beyond the headline, especially when the headline aligns with their beliefs. There are news articles that are opinion pieces that get shared as facts. Make sure you are aware of the difference.

Professional journalists make sure to use more than one source, and that is a good practice for you as well. You can do your part to check on a source before sharing and spreading any false information.

Be wary of graphics and photos that are shared on social media that reference numbers and statistics without citing a source for where the numbers come from. These are usually not accurate and get shared widely because they make a point or may be humorous, but can spread incorrect information.

Look at all information with a critical eye and read it as if you are a fact checker. Think about the information being presented and if it seems too good or too bad to be accurate and fair. Ask yourself if the information confirms stereotypes about a group of people. Is there a writer listed that you can look up and learn about? Does the publishing organization have a valid webpage and is it well known and reputable?

If an article is controversial, an internet search to look for other sources to confirm the information can be done. If you find there are articles on both sides of the topic you may need to dig deeper to examine who is authoring the articles and what their motivation may be.

Websites that end in .com.co should not be trusted. For example, there is a well-known website www.abcnews.com and then there is a similar looking website www.abc.com.co. This similar looking site is attempting to look like the legitimate ABC News site, however, is not the same and is purposefully misleading.

There are websites that are set up to fact check news stories that you can reference to verify information. One is FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitors the accuracy of U.S. political stories. Another website to check is PolitiFact.com, which verifies political news stories and is owned by the Poynter Institute, a U.S.-based non-profit journalism school.

You can also do a Google reverse image search to see if the images used in the article are valid. By performing this search, it will show you all the pages the image also appears in. Often when sites are disseminating disinformation, they use photos from other sources to make their article look valid. The easiest way to do an image search is to right click on the image and select “search Google for image.” If the image shows up on several stories on different topics, chances are that is not accurately being used.

The online news world allows us to get information quickly and easily. It is wonderful to have up to date information available at our fingertips, but with that comes a responsibility for the consumer.  We can do our part by verifying and ensuring we are digesting and sharing correct and trustworthy news sources. 

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org

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