This is the third and final in the blog series on developing information and critical literacy skills for identifying quality information online. After exploring why these skills are important, in the first blog post, and then investigating the grammar of websites in the second post, this final post provides some tools to consider when verifying information which has been published via social media such as Twitter and YouTube.
A Pew Research paper on how teens research in the digital world found that 52% of students access YouTube or other social media sites when searching for information for their assignments. Although not perhaps considered a traditional source of information, sites such as Twitter and YouTube are increasingly being accessed as a ‘way in’ to complex topics. These sources too require specific skills to identify reliable, accurate and quality information, perhaps even more so that websites. This is because the nature of social media is that it is designed often for quickly uploading and sharing information; there is very little skill level required to post to social media, vs the skills needed for web publishing; therefore an even larger group is publishing content which may or may not be correct. The personal nature of many posts also means that it is very open to bias, and the social nature means that scams, jokes and misleading posts are much more likely.
A fantastic and interesting way to learn more about how to verify information discovered via social media is to explore the work of the modern journalist. Often, information about breaking events is caught or reported by citizens ‘on the ground’, and is shared via social media much more quickly than traditional news services can. Therefore, for journalists reporting on news as it happens, often extensive investigation must take place to ensure the photo, video or blog post is verifiable, and not simply for notoriety or hoax value.
The Verification Handbook is a really interesting read (and free to download) which shares a range of tools and strategies for how journalists verify information, using real case studies.
Of course, students who are researching won’t necessarily go to the lengths that journalists go to to identify the veracity of information they find online, but it is good be aware of strategies which are easy to apply if they aren’t sure of the accuracy of information.
Three ways identified in the handbook to verify the accuracy of information on social media include:
Provenance – is this the original piece of content?
Source – Who uploaded the content?
Date – when was the content created?
Finding this information requires the use of a combination of tools.
One of the most useful tools for establishing the provenance of images is the Tin Eye reverse image search tool. Tin Eye begins with the image, and searches back, to attempt to establish where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version. This is particularly useful if you have the feeling that an image has been doctored. You can install the Tin Eye plug in for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Chrome, or you can just go to the Tin Eye website and paste the image link or drag and drop the image itself. Click on this link to see some of the more interesting versions of images that Tin Eye has discovered.
When looking at the source to verify who uploaded the content, there are several things to take note of. Look at the account of the person posting the information; what is the quality and content of their previous posts? Look for slight inconsistencies in their name (e.g. Julian Gillard), when did they create the account? You can also be guided by the blue tick on Twitter accounts which indicate that they have been verified, but this, like anything else, may be faked. More information about verified Twitter accounts is here.
Just doing a search for a well known person on Twitter can reveal the range of accounts purportedly belonging to the same person. This is a great activity to demonstrate how closely users need to examine accounts, and how easily one may be fooled into thinking posts are from someone from whom they are not.
To verify the date that information was published, journalists have to go to great extremes to verify the accuracy of information they receive via social media; sometimes searching the weather at the time an photo was taken to identify a match, or using Google Maps to match background scenery to confirm the event took place where it was said to.
While students aren’t necessarily dealing with breaking information, they do need to apply a little bit of critical awareness to information that they gather from social media. Simply double checking information against a number of different sources is one of the best ways to identify the reliability of information; as well as having a little bit of general knowledge and common sense.
For those who wish to dig a little deeper, the Verification Handbook website has published a list of tools that are useful for verifying identity, places and images.
These three posts (click for post one or two if you missed them) have attempted to provide a summary to this huge area. I have collated a list of resources and tools on my Pinterest board for further reading and information. I’d love to hear of any other tips, tools or strategies you have found useful when evaluating online sources of information.