Why do we evaluate information

In a world full of information that is steeped in algorithms, for-profit motivations, and biases, how do we determine the truth? And how do we know which information to trust? These questions are becoming more and more difficult to answer as our information society becomes entrenched in forms of emotional manipulation and post-truth tactics. 

A glimmer of hope can be found in seeking to understand the information economy itself and how it functions. This section is meant to inform you of the tactics of misinformation and arm you with tools for evaluation and fact checking. 

So why do we evaluate or fact check information? Well for starters, questioning what we are told is one of the core tenets of critical thinking. Additionally, evaluating the sources you interact with is a form of information stewardship. As researchers and responsible citizens, you have a duty to ensure that the information you are sharing is not contributing to the spread of misinformation.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Evaluating information takes practice. Don’t beat yourself up if you are deceived by false information. It is okay if you don’t have all the answers; this is why there are expert researchers in many fields who work hard to communicate accurate information. 
  • Skepticism vs. Cynicism: Approaching information with skepticism can be a healthy and productive way to interact with information. However, skepticism can breed cynicism. Information cynicism is when one thinks because you must question everything you must believe nothing. Highly-credible information is out there but it does take some basic skills to find it. Healthy skepticism can help you get there.
  • Emotions: Our relationship to information is more than intellectual, it is emotional as well. This is why the most effective disinformation campaigns point to our underlying fears and insecurities.


Misinformation is an unintentional mistake such as a typo in a headline or when someone shares a satirical article believing it is real

Disinformation is intentionally meant to mislead and deceive such as biased news sources that withhold all the facts. Disinformation often has political, financial, psychological or social motivations.

Propaganda is true or false information that is funded and communicated by the state in order to persuade. As the lines between private corporations and the government blur, what is propaganda versus what is advertising can be harder to decipher.

Notes on Nuance

  • The landscape of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda is complex and cannot be explained through simple definitions. And some sources may define these terms differently.
  • Intentions can be muddled and confusing amidst a mass media machine that is very much based in an inequitable reality.
  • Someone may share disinformation online, but may have no idea that what they are sharing is false because this information is being presented from a source they were told was reputable.
  • Some disinformation or propaganda has been delivered by withholding information and deceiving the public, news outlets, and even researchers (Example: oil companies withholding important climate change data whilst supporting climate denier movements).

Evaluation Methods

Consult this section for different methods to evaluate information sources

Use this method when encountering sources that you don’t know much about or when you are doing research in a topic that you aren’t familiar with. Gathering this basic information will give you a holistic understanding of the source you are working with.

  • Who
    • Author: is the author an expert in this field or do they have experience writing about this topic?
    • Publisher: who is publishing or promoting this source? Is it paid for buy an advertiser, focus group, or private entity?
  • What
    • Subject of the source: what is this source trying to tell you? Is it written to inform, persuade, or entertain?
  • Where
    • Medium: where is this source being published? In a print newspaper, on social media, a government website or a peer-reviewed journal?
  • When
    • Time frame: when was this source published? If it is older, is it missing new or relevant information? If it is newer, what facts don’t they know yet?

The SIFT Method is best used when you have some knowledge about your topic. 

  • Stop
    • When you first encounter a source, take a moment to stop and ask yourself if you think this information is trustworthy. Before diving in, think of what your intentions and goals are in this information seeking process. 
  • Investigate the source
    • Take time to investigate the source you are looking at. This could mean researching the publisher and author or scanning for citations. A quick Google or Wikipedia search can provide good background information. Follow this link to find more information on how to investigate. 
  • Find better coverage (or other coverage)
    • A good thing to keep in mind is that the source should not matter as much as the quality of information within the source. If you think a source isn’t providing you with the best information, find another. 
    • When you read a claim in a source (i.e. boiled garlic will cure COVID-19), it is best to do a Google search to see if reputable sources are backing up said claims with appropriate information. Follow this link for more examples on how to find better cove
  • Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context
    • Many things we read on the internet are re-reported information. Tracing claims and citations to their original source is an important step in source evaluation. Follow this link for more information on how to trace citations.