Knowing the quality of information is an important part of surfing the internet. It is so easy to read something that sounds convincing and just take it for real, as long as you don't dig deeper. Let's take one of the most common and more obvious examples, the claim that the moon landing wasn't real. Most arguments for this idea are based on "photographic evidence" like e.g. there are no stars visible in most of the photos taken on the moon. If you have some basic knowledge about photography, you know that this is absolutely consistent with photos taken at night of well lit objects. It has to do with the exposure time of such images. I will not delve into that any deeper here, if you're interested just have a look here and find a lot of exmaples for night shots where you can't see any stars. And so it goes on, if you read the arguments of the "sceptics", on first impression they sound quite convincing but if you look into it any deeper, the actual facts behind it are even more "convincing" and that goes for most conspiracy theories and fake news.

In the end the main problem is not so much one of evidence and proof than it is a psychological one. We humans lean towards tribalism, so if we are of a certain conviction, we tend to trust people who share our beliefs or ideas more than people who opose them. That creates echo chambers which amplify our opinions and drive us even more away from the willingness to second guess our views or those of our "tribe".

If you want to keep an open mind and stay alert about the traps of fake news, the "International Federation of Library Associations" (IFLA) has published a really good infographic on how to spot fake news. Here is a recap of its contents:

  • CONSIDER THE SOURCE
    Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.
  • READ BEYOND
    Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What’s the whole story?
  • CHECK THE AUTHOR
    Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?
  • SUPPORTING SOURCES?
    Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.
  • CHECK THE DATE
    Reposting old news stories doesn’t mean they’re relevant to current events.
  • IS IT A JOKE?
    If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.
  • CHECK YOUR BIASES
    Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • ASK THE EXPERTS
    Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.
So stay alert, particularly in regard to your own mind. Self reflection is always better than self deception.