I interrupt my originally-intended blog post to bring you this emergency post about how to evaluate the information you are constantly bombarded with on the Internet and elsewhere. This is by no stretch a conclusive list, but it’s a good jump-start to our common sense.
Is it a tabloid / gossip page? Tabloids are those trashy magazines in the supermarket checkout that rely on sensationalism to draw you in. If you answered yes, just throw it out now…all the way out. If not, move on to step two.
Is it fact or opinion or fact? Some sources are really sneaky about trying to pass off opinion pieces as fact. If the writer uses first-person pronouns such as “I”, or otherwise injects him/herself into the story, it’s opinion. If it resorts to name calling, it’s an opinion. I personally believe it’s wise to consult the opinions of reliable sources, but even then they should be considered suggestion, not fact. Opinion is the spice of your research, not the meat. Approach it with caution and an open mind. Go to step three.
Step two should also be applied to personal blogs, even this one. I only list blogs separately because they sometimes require a bit of additional discernment. Arise Ink has a bit of a homemade feel, but there are plenty out there that have a slick, news-like aesthetic, and are still just someone’s opinion. You could also happen onto the professional blog of someone who is a legitimate authority in the subject you’re researching. Just pay attention to what you’re really dealing with, and go to step four (Apply the remaining steps to non-opinion pieces).
Is it biased? For the sake of discussion, let’s use politics as an example. Does the article or website criticize or condemn one party or candidate exclusively? Is it written or owned by a specific party/candidate or anyone who is affiliated with, employed by or donates to them? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, remain skeptical and go to step five.
Look for sources that use specific language. For example, “The CEO earned $500,000 in 2015”, instead of “The CEO makes a lot of money”. The more specific the information, the easier it is to fact check and the more likely it is to be true. The most reliable material will cite sources, which you should also evaluate carefully. Go to step six.
Factual sources will generally not use overtly emotional language, like name calling or finger pointing (unless accompanied by documented facts. See #5). This kind of writing is intended to manipulate you. It’s relying on using your emotions to cloud your judgment.
My only intention is to give you some tools that will help you make better decisions about what you put into your brain and what your inflict on the people around you, on and off social medial. I’ve seen good people do so much damage with misinformation. You don’t want to be that person. Remember the truth seldom exists in extremes. The gray areas are always your best bet.