After learning about my reps, I ran into some knowledge gaps about a few policy areas. If that was your experience too, you might have found yourself in the expansive internets of politicking.
First, know that you don’t have to be the expert on all things! Finding comfort in saying “I don’t know” is a liberating exercise we all need to re-condition ourselves into.
When you do want to learn more, evaluate your sources. You don’t have to limit your sources to academic journals to be considerate of which sites you trust and which sources you follow on social media. Here are some questions you can ask about a source:
Is this person an expert?
Do they have experience working in this field? With the communities of people involved in this issue?
Are facts present and from a reliable source?
Is there data to support this person’s claim? What do contradicting studies say? Is the way this person presents research data representative of how the research authors are summarizing their findings?
What’s at stake for this person/organization?
Is this article trying to sell something? Are they connected to a line of funding at stake? Is it their job to defend a group of people or a resource?
Admittedly, this is complicated to assess as content itself is a commodity. Driving traffic to a site or app earns ad money.
Old school advice says to look for a .org vs .com domain extension, but this distinction is less meaningful as anyone can launch a .org domain. The .edu extension is supposed to imply a higher degree of integrity, but it’s not full-proof. Universities are creating open web spaces where students, faculty and staff can create content freely on their own .edu spaces with no vetting before publication. Good for creativity, community and free speech, potentially bad for the integrity of the .edu domain.
Resources for Fact Checking
Over time you’ll become more familiar with which sources you find to be reliable and fact-based. Check that stats and quotes are present, and then check if they’re real. You’ll probably use a mix of timely fact-checks around political debates and speeches, sites like factcheck.org and your own research skills to get a feel for reliability. Do remember that third party fact checkers are still human and can still be biased. Consider: what facts are checked? How do they summarize partial-truths?
Shades of Grey
These issues are often complicated and there are two sides, as well as two sets of data, for each argument. You won’t always get a conclusive answer on which side is ‘right’, but you can get a sense of which facts are true, offering a bit more clarity around a complex issue.
There’s a lot more to say about media literacy and a balanced ‘media diet’ but we’re talking sustainability here so I’m serving you one course at a time. More next week!
Enlightened Content Consumers: Any other resources you use to determine reliable sources vs “fake news”? Do tell.