Before You Act, Do This

With Internet-based media as an ever-increasing source of information, it is challenging to determine what is factually based data and news rather than inflammatory language and images designed to manipulate our responses.

Vital to our ability to actively participate in democratic processes, as spelled out in Article 21 of the UDHR, is that we act on verifiable facts and information coming from legitimate media sources. (See also: Resources to Be Well Informed and Resources for Speaking Up)

Here are some practical tools for keeping yourself informed with valid data and knowing who is behind the information you receive:

  1. Whois.com: When an online item catches your attention, check its source. Whois.com is the central registry of all Internet domains, where you will quickly learn, for example, that abcnews.com.co is not ABC News, but probably wants to make you think it is.
  2. Snopes.com: It’s worth your while to type a few keywords from the story that interests you into the search field of this fact-checking site — which may well tell you, with citations, that the entire matter is a hopeless mishmash of fact, fiction, spin, and deliberate falsehood.
  3. Search engines: Check Google et al. for other versions of the story. See who’s repeating what version, and how the spin and stated facts vary. Consider why.
  4. Wayback Machine: Sometimes content completely vanishes from websites, which interferes with your ability to analyze it and its history. Fortunately, the good folks at the Internet Archive have saved millions of pages for posterity, and you can look back on what’s changed over time.
  5. Watch and wait: In an era where anyone can make something up and have it go viral on the net, don’t act reflexively on posts clearly meant to outrage. Things may not be as represented, and it doesn’t usually take too long for other information and perspectives to emerge.
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