As questions swirl around media legitimacy in the age of social media, we wanted to investigate the best ways to suss out sources.
To find out the best ways to assess the legitimacy of a website we scoured the Internet. But… how did we know the information we were finding was accurate? To find out more we spoke to Janet Goosney, the Chair in Teaching & Learning (Library) at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The simplest way to assess a website is to use the acronym CRAAP. Janet explains, “The CRAAP test is a much-loved checklist that librarians like to use to teach students about website evaluation. CRAAP stands for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose (I’m pretty sure some tweedy librarian of yore worked through the night to make those criteria spell a naughty word).”
Is the article up to date? If you’re looking for spoilers for season 7 of Game of Thrones you are not going to find them in an article written during Season 1.
When we were looking for memes for Game of Thrones spoilers, we came across some funny ones, but just because they were funny doesn’t mean that they were relevant.
What is the source of the information? What qualifications does the author of the post or article have? Is there contact information?
Is the content of the website correct? Are sources and links provided in the article? Have you ever found yourself reported to be dead, and you were able to confirm that you were, in fact, alive? It happened to Riverdale actor Cole Sprouse.
What is the purpose of this website? Janet explains, “I think that it is essential to ask why a website exists, and where the value lies, when evaluating it as a source of information – regardless of whether it is being used for academic research or personal interest.” A recent segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Info Wars and its host Alex Jones, is a great illustration of “purpose.” Is Jones riling people to expose a corrupt media, to support far right politicians in the U.S., or is he trying to sell his own brand of vitamins and supplements?
Janet says it best, “The reality, of course, is that any website – even ones that are highly problematic – can have different dimensions of value depending on context. So for example, if you were writing a research paper about a literary work, you might not see reader reviews on Amazon as being valuable or authoritative; however you might view them differently if you were, say, trying to choose a good vacation read. Or, if you were a new parent trying to find unbiased information to help you make an informed decision about vaccinating your child, [a blog] would be problematic at best – but if you were writing a blog post about, say, parents’ understanding of vaccines, this might be a useful source to illustrate the kinds of websites that can influence public perception. So essentially, then, whether or not a website is “good” or “bad” can be highly contextual, and can even change depending on what you needs are, how you think about the source, and how you use it.”
Here are some other quick and easy suggestions for figuring out if a website is legit.
- Is the grammar and spelling correct? No editor? Uh oh!
- Is the article sensational? If it’s true then other news outlets will pick it up.
- Does the end of the URL look familiar? Eg. .com, .ca, .org, etc…
- Is the language used in the article unbiased or partisan?
We hope this helps. Happy web surfing!