Evaluating Resources for your Research Assignments

What to consider when determining if a source is credible and relevant for your research topic

Misinformation & Disinformation

Misinformation

When something false or misleading is shared but no harm is intended.

Example: Sharing an inaccurate quote on social media because you believe it to be true.

Disinformation

When false or misleading information is knowingly shared to cause harm. The information is sometimes altered or even entirely fabricated.

Example: Sharing a 2012 video from Russia of apparent voter fraud and claiming it was filmed during the 2020 election in the U.S. 

Misinformation & Disinformation

illustration of students using binoculars next to a Google search field

Mis/Disinformation is by design

A lot of disinformation fits a pattern. Here are some suggestions on how to spot it.

  • Check in with your emotions

    • If you're reading something online or on social media and it immediately makes you really angry or emotional, take a step back. True, there a lots of real things happening in the world that could make you emotional, but does it seem like the source you're reading is intentionally trying to rile you up? If so, this could be a sign that it's not real or highly exaggerated. 
  • Google it 

    • If something is false, it's likely that others have already fact-checked it and reported on it being false or misleading. Check to see if more credible sources, like mainstream news outlets, are writing about the issue. 
    • You can also go to a fact-checking website like factcheck.org or snopes.
  • Do a publication and/or author search

    • Google the publication or even read a Wikipedia article on it. It's likely there is information out there that discusses the reputation and credibility of a publication. 
      • Example: If I google the New York Times, I can see that this publication has won 132 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other publication. That's a pretty good sign! Does it mean the NY Times is perfect? No, but it's a pretty reliable source. 
    • Google the author - What else have they written? Who are they associated with? 
      • Knowing some of the author's background might give you an idea of their potential biases and their opinions. 
  • Get some context around the issue or event

    • Most issues or events don't just happen out of nowhere. There are likely multiple views, histories, ideas, and concepts around what is being discussed in an article. The more you know about the issue, the better equipped you'll be to decide how you feel about the issue or the quality of the reporting on the issue. 
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