#vetyoursouces is a campaign launched in the fall of 2020 by MHC Library to challenge our students to critically examine the content they’re viewing online. 2020 has moved so much of our social, work, and academic lives into the digital space, now more than ever, it’s important to evaluate the information we encounter online.
Are you ready to critically evaluate your information sources?
The Association for College and Research Libraries (2016), encourages teaching that “information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used” (para. 8). Dependent upon the intended use of a piece of information, the source can be evaluated as both credible and not credible. For example, a scientific claim presented over Twitter by a Hollywood celebrity might not be considered a credible source if used in a paper examining that claim. However, that same source may be considered credible if you use it in a paper examining celebrity influence in science.
Beyond finding a source suitable for inclusion in one of your course assignments, the same critical eye should be applied to your everyday consumption of information. A growing vocabulary of terms used to describe the inaccurate content you may come across online reinforces the growing need to be critical of what you read. Fake News is one of the many terms used to describe inaccurate information online, but what exactly is it? And, how do you spot it?
First, note that the term “fake news” characterizes the information landscape as either true or false, good or bad, verified or biased (Robinson & Gariepy, 2019). Just remember, the suggestion that there are simply two types of news; real and fake, doesn’t leave much room for nuance.
What kinds of fake news exist?
There are four broad categories of fake news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.
CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.
CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information
CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions
CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news
No single topic falls under a single category – for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.) Some articles fall under more than one category. Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not. It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.
Experts are available
MHC library staff are happy to help you #vetyoursources. You can contact us via email, chat, virtual drop-in or by booking an appointment.