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 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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