Is it True if it's on the Internet? Find out How to Tell if an Author is Credible

by LizM

It's on the Internet so it Must be True? Not Even Close! Tips and tricks to help you determine if that article on the web is really true and if the author is credible.

Remember that State Farm commercial about the French model and the girl who believes everything on the Internet? Remember how you laughed about anyone so gullible? Now look at that last story you forwarded on social media about a rouge spider hiding under toilet seats.

Sure, the spider story is one most of us know is false but what about those articles across the internet on the dangers of vaccines or even a product review? How do you know if those stories are truthful, factual, or just the random rantings of a nutcase?

Where did you Read it?

The first thing to look at is where did you read the story.  A story on the BBC is obviously more likely to be credible than one you read on Yahoo Answers or a personal blog.  If you have never heard of the outlet and know nothing about their credibility, you better check it out before you believe what they post.

For example, some of you may be coming to Wizzley for the first time.  What do you know about us?  Well, for one, there is a team of real life people overseeing the work of the authors.  Authors go through a process of approval before first articles can be published.  There is also a real set of author rules.

Compare that to Wikipedia.  No initial oversight of published articles or authors.  Only safeguards are a group of random people that have no vetting who scream more loudly than the others for editing.  Some checks have error rates as high as 60% on Wikipedia, and yet, because it looks like a fancy site and people do not take the time to research on their own Wikipedia is used as a factual source by many.

No one site is perfect but know about the rules and regulations of the site before blindly trusting something published there.  A random personal blog would need more vetting than something like where the authors actually go through an interview process and are answerable to a home office.

What is the Story About?

If it sounds too good to be true it usually is.  This is a very old saying and relates directly to information on the internet.  "Lose weight with this one weird old trick!"  "The Dr. Oz miracle weight loss that doctors don't want you to know!"  "Grapefruit cures cancer!"  "I am a Nigerian prince and need to move money to the U.S. and will pay you to help me!"  The list goes on and on.

Now, just because a story is sensational doesn't mean it isn't true.  People and pets have reactions to vaccines and other medicines for example.  But if a story starts out claiming that doctors know nothing about medicine because of one person's personal experience you can bet that is a story full of emotional damage being transferred onto an entire profession and not facts about actual reaction rates and the knowledge of most doctors.

Just remember that the more sensational a story is, the more you need to check the facts.

What are the Sources?

It is a mantra in the news industry...or at least used to be way back in the stone age when I was a photojournalist and reporter.  You have to have credible sources.  Where did the information come from?

This is a great way to check the validity of a story.  One random tweet about an attack on the White House that no one else has any information on is a pretty good indicator you should fact check before believing the report.  No matter where that tweet came from, a huge story or national event would be all over the Internet via social media and broadcasts from local news outlets.

Even if the story is about something relatively small like a "bad pet medicine," you can check sources.  Are their links to other stories, recall notices, published studies, etc within the text of the story?  Is there a source list at the bottom of the story for offline sources?

Remember that real information can be traced.  Wild speculations, conspiracy theories, and personal grudges rarely have any real backing data or use information completely unrelated to the actual story.

"They can't put anything on the Internet that isn't true"

Who is the Author?

Ok, you've sorted through a lot of information but you still aren't sure about the story.  What to check now?  How about who wrote the story?  Just because someone doesn't work directly in a profession of the story doesn't mean they don't know anything.  For example, anyone who cooks can write a recipe, they don't have to be Wolfgang Puck.  However, if someone is running an entire site about horse supply stores and has never even worked in a horse supply store (but they own a horse), then that isn't a good site to trust.  While the author probably has a wealth of personal stories and experiences, they don't have the background to talk about running a supply store and they certainly aren't qualified to dish out health information on horses except as relating personal experiences.

As with this article, why am I qualified to write it?  Well, I was a photojournalist and reporter back when newsprint wasn't dying.  I have been a writer for many years beyond the newspaper.  I am a natural born skeptic and always look behind the curtain.  I have years of experience in debunking Internet stories and articles as numerous friends and relatives who believe everything on the internet send them too me with various levels of alarm.  And I am skilled in open source intelligence, a skill gained while working in marketing with a large health insurance company and having to find out what competitors and clients were up to at any given time. Seriously people, stop posting things globally on Facebook, it takes all the fun out of the hunt.

Look for a biography linked from the article to find out about the author.  If there isn't one or it doesn't right true then do a search for them through your favorite search engine.

"Seriously people, stop posting things globally on Facebook, it takes all the fun out of the hunt."

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Check the Comments

Finally, check the comments on the article (if available).  While flaming campaigns can cause comments to be closed, a comment section full of nothing but fawning adoration with phrases like; "What an excellent and informative blog post and written with such authority." is probably a good sign the author may be deleting all disagreeing posts.

While I fully support deleting viscous comments, a controversial article/post with NO disagreement is a sign for concern.

Updated: 04/24/2013, LizM
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fitzcharming on 05/21/2013

I use a version of that phrase all the time when something is clearly incorrect, or more importantly when I want my way about something ;-) "But honey, I saw it on the internet, it HAS to be true"

Mira on 05/21/2013

Nice post!

katiem2 on 04/25/2013

Like we've always heard if it sounds too good to be true of far too incredible it likely is not a good reliable source. It is important for readers to use some good common sense and fact checking plus all the great tips you've provided here today

JoHarrington on 04/24/2013

With information bombarding people from all sides these days, I wish that one of the main lessons in schools was how to fact check.

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