By Reid Goldsborough
This election season, the issue of truth
versus falsity has been taken to new heights - or, perhaps, depths. The
online world also has a history of misinformation, disinformation, urban
myths, rumors, conspiracy theories, and deception. But just as the
internet is a fount of falsehood, it's also a source of tools for
verifying statements and alleged facts. Some helpful sites include:
in mind, anybody can play expert online, and many do. You frequently
see, for instance, lay people playing lawyer, offering legal opinions
about complicated subjects and advising others on what's legal and
what's not when it's clear all they've done is Googled to find a statute
or court case. Then there are the outright lies and similar statements
that show no regard for the truth or falsity of the matter, only the
agendas and biases of those behind them.
As a reader, it's good to be skeptical, not cynical, about information you come across and don't believe everything you read.
In asking yourself "Is it true?" also ask:
behind the information? Different sources employ different levels of
thoroughness in research and fact-checking and different levels of
- Why is the person or organization presenting the
information? Individuals and organizations often have agendas, sometimes
explicit, sometimes hidden. Advocacy groups and companies, for
instance, have different reasons for putting out information than news
- Is the information paid for? Ads and advertorials are inherently less reliable than other information.
the information diverge from my current understanding? If it diverges
widely and might affect an important business, health, or family
decision, try to verify the same information with at least two other
sources. Your local librarian can be a valuable resource here.
the information new or old? A lot of deadwood data is floating around
in cyberspace at websites that haven't been updated in several years. If
the site doesn't include a "Last updated" line or otherwise date its
content, check out some of its links. If more than a few are no longer
working, the information at the site might no longer be up-to-date
Whether online or off, the byword is, and likely always will remain, caveat lector: Let the reader beware.