Determining the Validity of a Website

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Recent events across the United States have been discussed on social media with people posting links to articles and news stories. Identifying the validity and vetted aspect of a source is crucial for understanding bias in the media. In the book Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) state

For there are no media rules. There is no law that requires labeling. The First Amendment protects the right of all of us to write or broadcast freely (p. 35).

Understand that anyone can publish anything about anyone or anything regardless of truthfulness, accuracy, qualifications, or ability. The Internet has been called the great leveler because this channel of communication has given voice to voiceless but also given voice to those with opinions and ideas that are destructive and hateful.

Analyzing a source of a news post on a social media network is necessary for developing online literacy. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) identify multiple models of journalism including three models of news, which are Journalism of Verification, Journalism of Assertion, and Journalism of Affirmation.

Journalism of Verification

This model is the traditional format of vetting and verifying information before publishing and is used by respected news sources. Journalism of Verification is the method people should be striving to read and share. Characteristics of verification place value on completeness, answering questions, multiplicity of sources, skepticism, producing evidence, and maintaining clear facts (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010).

Journalism of Assertion

The emergence of 24/7 news created a change in how information was vetted and thus broadcasted. The public demand for information coupled with technology meant that verifying information became a secondary characteristic. “In a sense the bias toward speed over accuracy is built in into the nature of the technology” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 43). Journalism of Assertion is becoming an accepted from of information distribution because society demands instant answers.

Journalism of Affirmation

The Internet has provided a conduit for echo chambers to form through the non-existent qualifications of publishing on online. Journalism of Affirmation is the logical fallacy of confirmation bias within the echo chamber. “The appeal of the journalism of affirmation is similar to that of the security and convenience offered by faith, as opposed to fact and empiricism” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 47). This is a potentially dangerous model of information distribution because the public lacks the skills and qualifications to distinguish fact from pre-existing belief.

Determining the Validity of a News Source

American psychologist Eric Festinger posited that when people are presented with contradictory information they experience cognitive dissonance and seek cognitive consistency (Sullivan, 2009). Even though cognitive consistency is a normal psychological response, understanding information that conflicts with establish beliefs is necessary for personal growth. These are steps that can be taken to identify false, misleading, affirmation news sources on the Internet.

Review the Domain Ending: Although most people can obtain a domain, some sites are specific to certain organizations. Domain endings .edu .gov and .org are examples of limited use by organizations. Vetted information will be transparent on domains that have specific requirements for accreditation and authorization.

Cautiously Explore the Website: Click About or Contact Us and ask what is the purpose of the website? Does the website have links for purchasing products? If the purpose is unclear or the website has a lot of promotions for buying products this is likely an entrance into an echo chamber.

Google It: what does the Google have to say about the story? What does Bing have to say about the story? What does Yahoo! have to say about the story? If it is a vetted story, multiple websites that have no association with each other will have information about the story.

Check Urban Legend and Hoax Sites: Visit sites like Snopes, Hoax Slayer, and Facecrooks and ask What information is missing that would make this story believable? Where is the evidence coming from? How are the facts presented? Is anything implied? What is the tone of the article? The ability to evaluate motives, bias, and sources on a website is critical for identifying the model of journalism.

Personal Blogs and Websites

Many authors on the Internet provide readers with well-researched and quality information. These authors may also be experts in a field and use blogs and websites as a tool for distributing information. However, the great leveler that is the Internet gives a voice to anyone with an ISP connection and a tinfoil hat. Although information distribution has shifted from the traditional newsroom to the amateur blogger, the reader needs the skills to determine whether the information is propaganda, marketing, a publicity stunt, or vetted news.

 

List of Fake News Sites (Satire and Hoaxes)

Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors

Fake News Watch

Don’t Be Fooled! A Guide to Fake News Websites

References

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T., (2010). Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Bloomsbury.

Sullivan, L. E. (2009). The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. London: SAGE Publications, Inc. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url,cpid&custid=shapiro&db=e000xna&AN=474685&site=ehost-live&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_99

 

 

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