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:

Keep 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:

  • Who's behind the information? Different sources employ different levels of thoroughness in research and fact-checking and different levels of objectivity.
  • 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 organizations.
  • Is the information paid for? Ads and advertorials are inherently less reliable than other information.
  • Does 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.
  • Is 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 either.

Whether online or off, the byword is, and likely always will remain, caveat lector: Let the reader beware.