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Media Literacy: Fact Checking Rules of Thumb

Fact Checking Rules of Thumb


Stop before you forward (or use): Before you share a link, engage in a moment of investigation. 

Don’t forward or share what you can’t verify.

Suspect the sensational: When we see something posted that looks sensational, it is even more important to be skeptical.

Exaggerated and provocative headlines with excessive use of capital letters or emotional language are serious red flags. Headlines that don’t accurately match the content also indicate sensationalism.  Hoaxers are often motivated by revenue. Anyone can make a site with sensational content and monetize it via click-throughs and self-service ad technology.

Go back to the source: When an article mentions a study or source or quotes someone, go directly to the actual study or source, or verify the quote independently to make sure it’s not taken out of context.

If an article is misrepresenting information, you should not trust them or cite them.  

Triangulate: Try to verify the information in multiple sources, including traditional media and library databases.  

You can begin to rule out the hoaxes by checking out sites like the nonprofit, nonpartisan FactCheck.org, or popular sites like Snopes or Hoax-Slayer.

Understand what you are reading: Even when you find yourself in a traditional news site, identify what type of writing you are reading.

Is it news reporting, an opinion piece, a feature story, an editorial, work by a guest blogger, a review, an op-ed, a comment, satire, or a disguised ad? Knowing the intention of the writing can help make sense of what you read. 

Investigate who is responsible for the information: Check the “About” and “Mission” pages of a website. 

Some websites are upfront about their purpose and possible biases and agendas. Articles without authors can be a red flag. If an author is listed, click on or investigate authors’ names to consider their credentials in context. Do they tell you about their code of ethics? Google the author to see if you can find a resume or a bibliography of other articles they have written to determine their expertise or bias. Is the organization or author linked to organizations with a known bias or agenda?

Interrogate URLs: Be alert for domain manipulation.

For instance, what looks like a .edu domain, followed by .co or “lo” is unlikely to be legitimate.  If you are you seeing a slightly variant version of a well-known URL, be suspicious. Even apparently legitimate domains can sometimes be purchased cheaply and used deceptively so do not rely entirely on the domain to determine trustworthiness.

Scrutinize graphics: Not all photographs or infographics tell the truth.

Images are often edited or processed, but sometimes they are digitally manipulated. Some images are born digital. A Google reverse image search can help discover the source of an image and its possible variations. Infographics can be manipulated to display statistics in a way that only shows part of the picture, or obscures the truth.

Check your own biases: We all have a bias, based on our experiences and perspectives.

We tend not to notice there is a bias in articles that agree with us, but we certainly notice when we disagree! It is easy to pay more attention to information that confirms your own beliefs and ignore any evidence that does not. If you are reacting emotionally to what you read- take time to consider what upset you and why.


Based on: Valenza, Joyce. “Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation: A News Literacy Toolkit for a ‘Post-Truth’ World.” School Library Journal. 26 Nov. 2016, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2016/11/26/truth-truthiness-triangulation-and-the-librarian-way-a-news-literacy-toolkit-for-a-post-truth-world/