In addition, hoax websites exist containing information on completely made up topics. There are also websites designed by people to completely mislead the public on a topic by providing unsubstantiated and/or one-sided information.
While the United States was built upon the notion of freedom of speech, we also need to educate ourselves that not everything we read is valid or true. Do the vast majority of people know a fake news story or misleading website when they encounter one? Or are people reading articles/websites, interpreting them as true, and unintentionally spreading misleading or false information to friends and family?
What Makes a Site Credible
I won't lie that it takes work to determine the validity of a website. But the work definitely pays off. While some educators and students use strategies, such as the C.R.A.A.P. method, I personally ask myself the following questions:
- Who is the author and source of the information?
- What date was the website created and when was the last time information was updated?
- What type of domain is the website? Is it a .com, .org., or .net that can be purchased by individuals? Is it a .edu that is reserved for colleges and universities? Is it a .gov that is reserved for government websites?
- Does the website cite reliable sources?
- Is the website well-designed and professional looking?
- What is the writing style of the website and is it free from spelling and grammatical errors?
- Does the website contain any disclaimers about the validity of the information? Check out the Federalist Tribune disclaimer. It states 'All the information on this website is published in good faith, entertainment and for general information purpose only. federalisttribune.com does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.' If the website can not confirm its reliability, then this is not a website I want to use as factual information.
Know the Author
It is important to do your research to learn about the owner and author of a website/news article in order to better understand the purpose of the information.
With news articles, if the author's name is not readily available, then that is a huge red flag. And if the author's name is available, is it a credible source. Conducting a quick search usually gives you some insight to the author.
With websites, sometimes you can't find the name of the registrant, so using resources such as whois.domaintools.com or easywhois makes it easy to find the information. Conducting a quick search using these sites will provide you with information, such as the registrant's name, organization (if applicable), date the website was created, location of registrant, and more. After you have the registrants name and/or organization, you can do a quick search to gain more information about the person.
One of my favorite websites to have people conduct a domain search on is martinlutherking.org. We are often told that we can trust websites that end in .org, but in some cases it can be owned by a non-profit organization with a hidden agenda. Use the steps below to find out more on who owns and operates the martinlutherking.org website. Follow these steps to conduct the search:
- Go to whois.domaintools.com
- Enter martinlutherking.org in ‘Enter a domain or IP address’ field.
- Make note of the Registrant’s Name and Organization
- Conduct a search to find out more information about the the registrant
After you do the search and discover the owner of the site, check your research against this information to see if you uncovered the real truth. Were you surprised by who owns and operates the website? Does the information change your view regarding the validity of the website? How can you use this exercise with students? If your district blocks the martinlutherking.org website, as mine does, you can demonstrate the domain search tools using this site for the students and then have them research about the author. Then have them conduct their own domain search using another chosen website.
Resources Identifying Fake News Sources
Below are sources which contain lists of websites that have been tagged as being fake or satirical news.
In addition, here are some known hoax websites that can be used to practice website evaluation skills:
- All About Explorers
- Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie
- Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
- Dog Island
- Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
- Republic of Molossia
- The Jackalope Conspiracy
Chrome extensions, found in the webstore, are small programs that add additional functionality to your Chrome web browser experience. The following extensions can be used to help initially identify whether or not a website has been tagged as poor or misleading information.
WOT (Web of Trust) - everyday users rate websites based on trustworthiness and child safety. When you click on a website that has been rated poor or very poor, you will receive a pop-up warning. Here is a link to a previous blog post with more information.
StackUp - notifies you of a possible fake news (misleading information) website through a 'Be a Critical Thinker' header pop-up. Here is a link to a previous blog post with more information.
Factitious is an online game that tests your ability to identify a real vs. fake news story. The game can be played independently or the teacher can project the articles and have students work in partners to discuss the article. Have them use different colored sheets of paper to denote whether they believe the story to be real or fake. While the game alone won't educate us, we can use it as a way start identifying common characteristics of fake news stories. A nice feature of the game is the ability see the source of the article. Knowing the source of an article can play a key role in helping us determine the validity of the information.