Differentiating Between Reliable and Unreliable Sources in a Fake News World

Fact Fake and Elections- Getty Images- https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fake-news-web-sites-may-not-have-a-major-effect-on-elections/

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Research and top intelligence experts have verified that the Russian government and perhaps other nations have been intentionally interjecting false information into the US social media world in an effort to undermine our political process. With the proliferation of new and constantly changing information on the Internet and social media it is becoming increasingly more difficult for many people to differentiate between truth and fiction. That is, it has become a real challenge to know what is a valid source of information versus what is merely propaganda.

This is especially the case when it comes to seeking out information within the political realm. During midterm and general elections it has become common practice for candidates to put out misinformation about their opponents and downplay their own mistakes with misleading articles. What is the best way to fight against a culture where misinformation is the order of the day? One way to combat this is to develop a skill set that can allow us to be skeptical of information until we have put it through a vetting process that involves ensuring that it comes from a valid and reputable source.

The Teaching Tolerance organization has developed an article entitled Evaluating Reliable Sources that helps students understand how important it is to identify reliable sources when reading and working in an online environment. The article contains a lesson plan that teachers can use to help students develop the skills to evaluate sources and know the difference between reliable and unreliable sources. Here are some questions the article asks us to consider when trying to determine whether a source is valid or not:

Who wrote this source?
What was the purpose of the author who wrote this source?
What other sources does this source reference?
Does this source say the same things as other sources?
Does this source echo what I know from personal experience?

NPR has provided a resource entitled Comic: Fake News Can Be Deadly. Here’s How To Spot It. The resource offers ways to identify misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some other educational resources and lesson plans on the topic of finding reliable sources.

Evaluating Legitimate Sources
Choosing Reliable Sources
Identifying Reliable Sources and Citing Them
Teaching Adolescents How to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information
Lesson Plan: Evaluating sources — What’s a ‘reliable’ source?
The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Source Credibility
Reliable Sources Lesson Plan
Evaluating Online Sources Lesson Plan: Is Everything on the Internet True?


  1. Fake News! If I haven’t seen or heard this phrase from someone on my Facebook timeline or heard it from President Trump’s mouth in a few days, I am shocked. It is true that we live in a time of fake articles and propaganda that speak to one side of the argument or the other and the root of the matter is: how do we rectify the situation? It is so important that we as civilians get the most factual and direct information, but in the end, how do we make it happen? As Dr. David Childs speaks of, I believe the most effective way to decipher information is to train ourselves to validate the sources that we are getting our information from and stopping the spread of misinformation with our own platform. The truth of the matter is that we live in a very divisive political time and it is our responsibility as news information consumers to assess the information we consume and only “re-share” the most factual information that we come across.

  2. Fake news has been a big topic lately, especially in correlation to the political stances. Dr. Childs gives good advice in this article that can help students equip themselves to fight fake news. I really struggle with figuring what is the truth and what isn’t. Dr. Childs gives us an article that helps with fighting fake news. A good point I saw was always being skeptical of information until we can prove its validity. I found this article by Dr. Childs very helpful and gave helpful information and resources to differentiate reliable versus unreliable news and information.

  3. As an online college student I have to say that this article is a must read. Many students are being forced to online courses, the evaluating reliable source tool is a great way to ensure that your choice of reliable sources are indeed reliable. I would also consider using the list of five questions at the end of the article to quick check your sources. Once you get used to asking these questions, the better aware to false information you will become.

  4. With the internet as a platform that permits input without certification, like Wikipedia for example, it is easy to be misled with plain misinformation or hidden biases that distort content. I have been informed of predatory journals that invalidate the scientific process, but seeing this phenomenon affect our political process as well is discouraging. Our political process can only function properly when acting out of integrity. This article is highly beneficial when discerning facts from fiction as misinformation can prove fatal as mentioned by Dr.Childs. I plan to stay skeptical in attempt to not be misled and not take every headline at face value, but rather do my own research with multiple sources.

  5. Fake news has become such a huge part of our social media. This is definitely something that needs to be addressed more in our schools. Not only should we teach them how to find credible real sources and how to look for them. But to also understand that all sources can be biased. In todays world it’s not only about credibility but also about looking at that source and asking all the questions Dr.Childs addresses; who wrote this, what is their purpose, who are they writing for and keeping in mind they will be biased in one way or another. I think there is also an issue with the platforms to which we are getting our information, platforms like youtube, facebook and twitter all have the power to delete your account, delete your post, and tell you that it’s fake news regardless of if it is or not but solely because someone doesn’t like it. I believe we should all look at what we read and hear and actually do the research on it, don’t just like it on facebook and share it because your friends are doing it. All of the links Dr. Childs attached to this are great resources and should be shared; I will definitely be bookmarking them!

  6. This article is so informative and especially important in the recent pandemic going on in the world today. With the amount of people who watch television or scroll through social media everyday, we all hear so much fake news and propaganda even multiple times a day. Most apps on our phones have advertisements shown which contribute to propaganda. Many social media sites have fake news accounts for celebrities and post news to confuse all. Lately, I have seen so many articles contradicting what is actually being used to try to cure the coronavirus. I have had to stay off of social media just so I do not get scared and read fake news. Dr. Childs is very accurate in saying that we should put our information we hear or see through a “vetting process.” In today’s times, especially, it is important for the human population to have opinions based on informed knowledge and to not believe things they have not seen multiple times or that make it hard for us to prove their validity.

  7. Fake news is a huge problem especially in social media today. People assume that if it is on Facebook it is true. Even if they second guess the information, they share it and ask if it is true. They do not take the time to find out for themselves if the information is valid. That is a huge problem with fake news and people automatically believing it. People aren’t taking the time to learn the valid information for themselves and assume all information is true. We, as a people, will never know the truth if we continue to spread false news and information to one another. Fake news spreads like wild fire and we need to put it out.

    • It is so hard to differentiate between what is real and fake news in today’s society. I agree that one way we all can try to fight the fake news is to become more skilled at recognizing what is true what is not true and vetting the information we are getting as well. It is so important to make sure our sources of information are credible. Providing a source to help students do that is very smart.

  8. Fake news is a term that I am sure most people that listen to any political news stations or have a social media account have heard of. It is nearly impossible to get on a site such as Twitter or Facebook and not see people arguing over a controversial topic. Especially right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to be able to weed through what is accurate and what is fake news. This article gives great resources to not only students but anyone that is interested in learning the “real” news instead of fake news. I have faith that I could post something like “The world will end in 5 days” and at least 1 other person will re-post it and make a fuss about it. My point being that not only do we get provided with fake news, but there are certain people that do not care about the reliability and just create a panic to do it.

  9. Today, more than ever, we see the importantance of teaching K-12 students how to evaluate the reliability of information. Through conversations with friends and relatives, I’ve come to believe that most people would benefit from returning to school to learn how to spot a hoax or recognize the characteristics of propaganda. Covid-19 has only increased the opportunities for foreign governments (and US citizens with questionable agendas) to promote false/biased information as truth.

  10. Fake news is a pretty dangerous topic. While it is imperative to identify false information, the mass can pivot this term to discredit otherwise credible sources. I am relived to see such a valuable source for evaluating reliable sources. Combating “False News” is essential in the age of disinformation. A Helpful article! Thanks, Dr. Childs!

  11. Unreliable sources and Fake News play a big role in the spread of misinformation. In the last decade it seems as if all honor and prestige has left the political process and created a society based on lying and character assassination. Subsequently, politicians and the media have tainted all avenues of thought in information to push for their own agendas. It can be hard in today’s world to find valid sources and factual information.

    In order to separate fact from fiction it is important to evaluate the source and text using the guidelines above. If the information comes from a respectable source, a credible author, and avoids inserting opinions and biases into the information (as much as possible) then it is probably a safe, reliable source. In addition you can cross reference information with other sources in order to ensure you are getting factual information.

    In this day and age people must always be on guard for misinformation. It is important to investigate sources to ensure they are reliable. By doing this, we can identify fact and, hopefully, the future generations will create a world where politicians value honor and truth rather than pushing their own agendas.

  12. Today more than other days do we need to make sure information being presented is factual rather than being fake. I see it as a big issue that information being put out to the world is not always correct whether its coming from the internet or coming from the news on TV. Not every news channel is wrong but the majority of them give off information that is not always correct. How can we change this so younger adults and children know they are getting the most updated versions of information?

  13. We have entered into a culture that actively attacks academia and the attacks are becoming more bold and absurd every day. But I feel that more people are buying into the toxic ideology that the sciences and histories that do not line up with their social, political, or religious ideals are more easily discredited with the mounting numbers of false information and fabricated studies to soothe constituents. Valid concerns and structured research can be dismissed with a simple “fake news”. As educators we need to be better equipped to combat this in our classrooms and train current students to be able to moderate themselves and question findings that seem out of place or at least in an appropriate way rather than simple rejection based on personal feelings or prejudices.

  14. I agree with Dr. Child’s article, Fake News is a huge issue in today’s society- particularly when it comes to politics. (Both sides of the aisle.) With technology being the main source for student education in the Covid-19 era, it is so important that students are aware of how to decide whether the information they are getting is fake or not. The five questions listed at the end of this article are a great way for students to learn how to check their sources. As stated in Dr. Child’s article, everyone should look at the information they get as skeptical until they have vetted the source. This skill set should be taught at an early age.

  15. The phrase “Fake News” has been very popular the last four years while Donald Trump has been President. He claims that the media is on a “witch hunt” for him, which is why there are so many fake news sources. I think it is important to be aware of fake news and question the reliability of it with the tips that Dr. Childs provided. It seems as if all new sources have some narrative they are trying to push and it is hard for people to distinguish what is real. I also think it’s important for not only myself but for my family members to follow the questions to ask when considering if a source is valid or not. I always wish that there was a news channel that was completely unbiased and just told the facts instead of leaning one way or the other. One can dream I guess.

  16. This topic is so relatable especially with the election just around the corner. Every time I read the news or a news source I feel that I am constantly questioning if what I am reading is fact or fiction. With tension being raised due to Covid-19, the election and protesting equality it has never been more important to know what is fact and what is fake. I feel that the media has the control to shape tensions with fear and false information and they are able to do this because people are unable to differentiate lies from truth. I feel that younger adults are especially susceptible to believing whatever they see on Facebook, twitter and Instagram for facts. If teachers were to start teaching ways to distinguish reliable news sources this could dramatically help the population realize how they are being manipulated. The sources provided on this article are great places for teachers to go and research ways to teach their students how to see credible news sources. It is high time the public stop for a moment and take the time to think if they are being fed lies, half truths or facts.

  17. It is hard not to believe everything you hear or read and actually go to the source of the article and fact check it. Everyone has their biases and sometimes when reading articles it is hard to tell if that person is sharing facts or their opinions and interpretations of what actually happened. Even some news channels will lean towards one side of a story and tell that perspective. Sometimes people do share the truth, but only half of it. If someone they like is doing something good, they only share the good thats going on. If someone they do not like is doing bad, they only show the bad side of that person. A majority of people have good and bad sides. I feel the media often portrays the bad sides of people because it is “more interesting” or do it to get more viewers. Everything is not always what it seems. It is important to share with kids the difference between reliable and unreliable sources so that they are not confused or their opinion is not swayed in one direction or the other. I know in school they always reminded us that wikipedia is not a reliable source because anyone can go into the site and write whatever they want.

  18. I think this article is so important for everyone to read. Because of social media, we are surrounded with false news multiple times a day. It can be really confusing and difficult to figure out what is real and what is not. By asking ourselves the questions about the source that are posted in this article we can figure out if it is trustworthy. As a teacher, this skill is something I want to include in my teaching and even have students practice multiple times, so as adults they will know what to believe and what is real. This will help them to become more educated.

  19. This article is very informative and a needed resource for many people. Fake news is so easily spread with social media platforms and even media wanting to be the first news channel to break a story that they don’t gather all their facts. It is becoming harder and harder to believe anything you hear. I don’t know how many times I have seen the craziest stories being shared through social media and then seeing people comment on the fact that it has been proven to be fake. Even after it has been proven fake, people still share stories. I like how Dr. Childs put in this article the five questions to ask about any given piece of information. Many people have biased opinions and you may only be getting half of the story or a one sided argument for a specific topic. Politics are the worst offenders of all. Just going through another presidential election, the campaigns and commercials you see for candidates only bash their opponents and feeds on the negative. I personally would rather see a campaign and commercials about what that person is going to do for the United States or for state officials, what they are going to do for the state of Kentucky. I have actually taken a break from social media due to all of this negativity and the fact that you can’t trust anything you see any more.

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