With the rise of artificial intelligence and “fake news,” knowing how to fact-check sources is now more important than ever.
It has become increasingly challenging to determine what is true and what is false.
“Fake news” has become a hot topic in politics, but false or misleading information is a problem in all areas of the internet — especially with all of the AI writing tools available now — and learning how to vet your sources is an essential part of writing solid content.
In the days of print, magazines and book publishers had layers of fact-checking built into their systems. A series of editors and fact-checkers vetted each story. But with new technology, anyone can create a website and fill it with whatever content they want, with no regard for the truth.
Social media contributes to the problem by helping false information spread like wildfire. Lots of questionable sources, ranging from hostile governments to unscrupulous advertisers, create official-looking news reports to take advantage of the power of viral content.
How to fact-check sources in 10 steps
That’s why it’s critical to learn how to evaluate your sources. Here’s how to do it well.
1. Seek out primary sources
Using primary sources — the original source of a fact, figure, or quote — is the hallmark of trustworthy content. If you’re reporting on a scientific discovery or research study result, seek out the original peer-reviewed story in the scientific journal that published the study.
If you’re citing a statistic, find the source of the survey rather than accepting another writer’s interpretation of the data.
Go to a government or university source wherever possible. For instance, search the IRS website if you’re reporting on a U.S. tax topic.
For travel information, visit the state department website.
For health information, lean into the websites of reliable institutions like Harvard Medical School or Johns Hopkins, as well as the CDC and World Health Organization.
2. Use fact-checking sites
When it comes to political content and current events, one of the best ways to determine whether or not a story is true is to use a fact-checking site.
Some of the most popular ones include Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck.org. These sites will often investigate reports circulating on social media and provide a verdict on their accuracy to help you fact-check sources.
3. Consult the media bias chart
One of the best places to check the reliability and bias of a news source is Ad Fontes Media, home of the Media Bias Chart. Each source is ranked according to whether it leans liberal or conservative and its reputation for accuracy.
The most reliable and unbiased sources are at the top center of the chart.
Another place to check the reliability of a media source is AllSides.com. This website provides its own Media Bias Chart that rates the political leaning of over 600 news sources, from left to right.
4. Dissect the source website
If you don’t see your source on either media bias chart, you can evaluate the site yourself.
Here’s what to look at:
- Is the website extensive, with lots of historical stories on a variety of topics? Or does it consist only of a few headlines hitting similar notes?
- Do the articles have bylines? Are they written by journalists or amateurs?
- Who funds the website? Do they have any vested interests in the stories being published?
- Check the site’s About Us page. Who are the people behind the site? Is the site’s mission clearly stated? What is its agenda?
- What comes up when you put the site’s name into a search engine?
Give priority to sites operated by university and government institutions.
5. Verify with other sources
It’s always a good idea to verify questionable information when you fact-check sources.
The fastest way is to grab the keywords from the first sentence of the story and use those terms to search. See if any well-known and trusted sources are covering the story.
6. Beware of confirmation bias
We tend to believe information that reinforces our existing beliefs. This is called confirmation bias.
We are all susceptible to confirmation bias, especially when a story hits our emotional hot buttons. If a person is emotionally invested in an idea — like a particular leader is incompetent, all pharmaceutical companies are corrupt, or aliens have visited the earth — they are likely to embrace new information that fits those belief systems.
7. Be suspicious of rage- and fear-inducing headlines
We are more likely to share a story if it makes us angry or afraid. This is because our amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, is more engaged when we read something that enrages us.
Fake news headlines are usually designed to provoke that response in order to go viral. They are manipulative by nature. Reliable news media are much more measured and balanced in their headlines.
8. Follow the links
If the story contains links, follow them and see where they take you as you fact-check sources. If the information you’re reading is solid, it should be linked to reliable well-known media and primary sources.
9. Check the date
Another critical thing to look for when trying to determine whether or not a story is true is the date it was published. A lot can change in a short period when it comes to news, health information, business, and sciences.
Even with evergreen topics, it’s best to choose a source less than a year old.
10. Check the authors
It’s also important to look at who wrote the story. Are they a journalist with a long track record of reputable work? Are they a topic expert?
Do a quick Google search on the author’s name if you’re not sure.
Be vigilant about fact-checking your sources
Social media and technology have made it necessary to be vigilant about the sources you’re using. By following these simple steps to fact-check sources, you can ensure that the information you base your writing on is accurate.
High-quality content can turn your brand into a trustworthy, reputable, industry leader. Bad content can do the exact opposite. If you need help creating standout content that’s factual, informative, and engaging, talk to a content specialist today. Our team of writers can handle all of your content needs, from white papers to blog posts.