Hey Siri, who is running for president?
Hey Google, how big is the Earth in diameter?
Alexa, what’s the weather today?
More information is available at our fingertips every moment of every day than could be consumed in a lifetime. Anyone and everyone is capable of publishing content online. For both journalists and their audience, an important skill that facilitates the marketplace of ideas is to differentiate between accurate, reliable information and biased, unreliable data. Building these skills results in us being more digitally literate, or news literate.
Stony Brook University Journalism Professor Steven Reiner outlines 4 challenges that face news audiences every day:
- Information overload: The sheer amount of information available makes it overwhelming to sift through.
- Authenticity crisis: Because of widely available tools, it is easy for a source to imitate authenticity. This can confuse the casual consumer.
- Speed vs Accuracy: With so many people continuously plugged into a 24-hour news cycle, news agencies are constantly trying to be the fastest to break a new story. Usually, this comes at the cost of story accuracy. Those who see the story first might not get the right facts, leading to confusion.
- Overcoming personal bias: The Internet tailors experiences for each user, according to what an algorithm thinks the user wants to see. Understanding that our personal biases affect what information we see and interact with will help us discover the bigger picture.
With these obstacles between us and good information, what are journalists and their audiences to do? Dr. Dale Cressman from Brigham Young University gives seven steps on evaluating internet sources:
- Check for the page creation date and content updates. This ensures that your information is based on the most current knowledge available.
- Ensure that links within the article work and that the links don’t lead to dead or outdated pages. Links should lead to credible, verifiable sources that reinforce the article’s viewpoint.
- Look for multiple cited sources that represent a variety of viewpoints. Multiple points of view lessen the amount of one-sided bias present within the piece.
- Make sure that news and opinion are clearly labeled and distinguished. Know when you’re looking at facts and when you’re looking at the author’s opinion.
- The page’s “About Us” is easily found, providing information about funding, ownership, contact information, etc. It is vital to understand the motivation behind the company producing information. Are they writing this piece to promote themselves? Were they sponsored by another company to conduct and publish research? Or are they writing to simply provide information about a subject? Look for pieces that are informational at heart.
- Watch out for .com, .org, and .net. While .org websites and .net websites are more reliable for research than .com, anyone can still post anything on a .net or .org website. Only .edu and .gov are restricted in the information that can get published.
- Fact check, fact check, fact check. By this point, you should know to read everything online with a grain of salt. Do your due diligence and fact check everything that you can. Politifact.com and Factcheck.org are two great places to start.
While there are obstacles to being digitally literate, we each have the responsibility to put in the work to overcome them. Most of the time, the changes are small and don’t take much extra time. Help is available. Work to make these steps daily habits and become more digitally literate.