One of the most important actions of a responsible citizen is seeking knowledge and staying informed. That action is becoming more and more challenging. In 21st century America, the problem is not necessarily access to information but rather the ability to discern between independent truth and deceptive misinformation. As the terms "fake news" and "alternative facts" permeate our culture, people are becoming both more aware of the necessity of staying informed and more unsure of how to do so. As we ask participants in the challenge to seek information today, we are also asking you to ensure that the information you find is credible, relevant, accurate, and unbiased. We have created a list of steps to take that we hope will help you to do just that.
1. Question: Automatically question the source of your information. Do not make any assumptions about its legitimacy. This becomes even more critical when you receive a source from someone you trust. We have a tendency to accept information shared by people who we know are trustworthy and responsible without looking into the validity of their source. Just because someone you know suggested you look at a specific site, does not necessarily mean that the site is credible. Misinformation and distorted information is everywhere, and it is becoming easier and easier to be susceptible to it. We all have a responsibility to stay informed and to help each other identify what is truth and what is distortion of truth.
2. Validate: Understand how to verify the validity of a source. Learn what news sources provide objective information and what news sources are considered biased. Before reading an article, read about the source of the site providing it. Is the site furthering an agenda? What ads are on the site? Consider the author of the article. Does that author have expert authority? Is the article itself sourced? Where is the author getting his/her information? Are those sources biased?
3. Cross-Check: Seek independent verification of your source. Check the key facts and claims presented in the article against other trustworthy sources. Non-partisan fact-checking sites, such as factcheck.org and politifact.com, can help.
4. Explore: Keep your information channels open. Don't always go to the same sources and don't just read the sources that tell you what you want to hear. We all have beliefs and values that we want to see validated. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have biases. One of the most difficult challenges to overcome when seeking information is avoiding CONFIRMATION BIAS. When we read information, we interpret it. When we interpret information we often do so in a way that supports our existing beliefs and understanding. Being aware of our own biases is necessary when trying to stay truly informed. News delivered with a clear political slant can be just as damaging as "fake news." So, consider limiting your use of social media to find news. If you are getting your news from Facebook, you are in a FILTER BUBBLE, and you are getting your news based on an algorithm that gives us what we want to see. Make a conscious effort to learn outside of your ECHO CHAMBER. Don't just look at the first page of items that come up when you Google a topic. Don't search what you want to prove. The internet is now personalized. Search for what you need to know, not just what you want confirmed.
This guide from Madison College is helpful when considering whether or not your source is valid:
CRAAP Test For Evaluating Sources