11 Tools to Verify that Online Info

This afternoon I had the pleasure of presenting at the Catholic Press Association National Conference here in St. Louis.  Great setting, great people and my time went way too quickly.

I shared with them some of my favorite sites/tools for verifying online information, and thought perhaps others might be interested.  So, in no particular order, here they are.

  1. Snopes  “The Granddaddy of them All”, my automatic go-to when I see something that smells fishy.  Snopes has been around since 1995 and gets over 300,000 visitors a day.  What’s great about Snopes is that they explain their research and how they go about verifying info.   Snopes was where I turned yesterday, when I was convinced that this photo/video was a fake.  I was wrong!  It’s legit. And now I am officially freaked out.
  2.  Emergent  This is a newer-ish site, part of a research project at Columbia University.  What’s neat about Emergent is that the rumors are organized by category.  They even have a separate section for hoaxes and fake news.  (You know how much I love fake news.)  Like Snopes, you can sign up for email newsletters that include their latest findings.  Sign up if you want to get depressed at how easily fake stuff flies around online.
  3. Trendsmap  Say you see something on Twitter and you’re curious to see if anyone else is tweeting about that particular topic in that particular area.  It doesn’t necessarily verify that what’s happening is legit, but if that topic is trending in that particular area, it might serve as a decent clue.trendsmap
  4. Who Is  See something on a blog and you’re curious who the person is behind the curtain?  Check out this website and simply enter the domain name.  You’ll get the whole background of the site, including how long it’s been around and who pays for it.  Just knowing THAT, in many cases, can help you validate or de-bunk info.
  5.  Urban Legends Site   If Snopes is like “Dateline”, then this Urban Legends site is like “Entertainment Tonight”. The info is similar but packaged in a more entertaining, HuffPost way.
  6. Hoax Slayer  is similar to Snopes, but is organized a bit differently.   It’s been around since 2003, which is longer than your long-lost Nigerian prince cousin has been trying to give you money.   I like this site because it has special subcategories for Facebook as well as email scams.
  7. First Draft News might be my new favorite website, ever. Not only does it include all sorts of categories of “news” but it also includes tools and tutorials for sniffing out hoaxes yourself.  Reference collections, student services and even fake news quizes.  There are also videos where you can watch their researchers do their thing – live.  I signed up for their email list immediately and this summer I hope to dive into this site in great detail.   This is the kind of site I wish I had created years ago, and working for them might be my dream job.
    first draft
  8. Page Rank Checker   See something on a site you’ve never explored before?  Check the page rank of the site using this handy tool.  It uses Google analytics to tell you where this site ranks compared to others.  This is a handy way to check the credibility and source of a site – and might just be the verification (or de-bunking) tool you are looking for.
  9. Google Reverse Image Search  Let’s face it, if people knew how to use this tool, MTV’s program “Catfish” would lose its premise and the cutie Nev Schulmann would be out of a job.  Simply drag a photo into the search box and you will find out where else on the web the photo is being used.  This is a fantastic way to determine if old news photos are being re-purposed and turned into political memes.  I once had a student do a Google Reverse Image Search on one of her Instagram photos to find out that her photo was being used to advertise a sex party in a neighboring state via Craigslist.  Her Instagram account is now locked.   Lesson learned.
  10. Verification Junkie  is an excellent collection of tools put together by my Twitter Brain Crush Josh Stearns.  He puts new tools on his site constantly, which means by midnight this blogpost will already be outdated.  Josh is brilliant and savvy – you need to bookmark this site if you are at all interested in deciphering what is bonafide and what is bogus.
  11. Twitter and Klout – These may seem like no-brainers, but are sources that some might overlook.  See a Tweet you want to investigate?  Look at the account, the number of followers, the most recent tweets before and after the tweet in question.  See who the account follows, and see who follows them.  Is there a name on the account? Google it.  Check any website associated with the account.  If these simple tips had been heeded in November 2015 at the University of Missouri, perhaps the dorms would not have been on lock-down.mizzou tweetIf one Googles Andrew Anglin, or the website “stormer 9K”, one will discover that Andrew Anglin was NOT an African-American Mizzou sophomore political science major, but a creepy white supremacist who just wanted to stir things up.  And stir things up he did.  With this old photo, he got retweeted 865 times by the time I screenshotted the Tweet.   And, let’s be honest: if the Klan really had been at Mizzou, wouldn’t Anderson Cooper have been there, too?   Don’t forget to check Klout scores as well.  They’re online credibility scores, much like a credit score when you apply for a loan.  The higher the number, the more credible.

With all of these tools available (and I’ve only listed 11!) there is no reason to believe, share or retweet anything you see that might be suspicious.  Even if you WANT it to be true, your online credibility is too valuable.

Here’s to sniffing out online fakes!


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