When I was a teenager, I always looked forward to fall back to school shopping. My mom and I would go to my favorite stores in the mall and I would revel in finding the latest must-have for that season. Before we got to the register though, my mom insisted on looking every item over very carefully. She always took her time, examining each item for spots or damage or just ridiculous pricing to the point of holding up the line at the checkout. In those days, I would just roll my eyes, but I have come to realize that what she did made a lot of sense. Now I apply her tactics to how I evaluate the information I encounter every day.
It didn’t matter how much I loved the store we were in or how many fantastic pieces I had already purchased from there, my mom always insisted on spot checking every item before we bought it. She didn’t automatically trust the seller. Now I try to do the same with the information I consume. When I encounter a new piece of information, especially on social media, I ask myself, “What does the information provider have to gain if I believe what they are saying?” Sometimes it’s obvious. If Kim Kardashian is professing wonderful things about a medication, it is probably likely that she was paid to do so. Other times it is a bit more complicated. What about when a friend asks you to like a non-profit on social media that you’ve never heard of before? Even if you know the messenger and actual money isn’t involved, it is always a good idea to take the time to look over the information carefully before you buy into it. Just by sharing or liking a piece of information, you are, at least to some extent, suggesting that you think that information is worthwhile.
So how can you tell if a piece of information is legitimate? When it came to clothes, my mom always looked for how well the garment was put together. Were there any loose threads? You can do this with information too. From the longest article to the shortest hashtag, every piece of information has a context. No information exists in isolation. The more you understand that context, the better you will be able to judge the information. Sometimes the information creators make it easy to get to that context—they provide links or citations to where they got their information and you can judge credibility based on their sources. A giveaway that an information source isn’t the best is when they only provide links to their own material, as many of these rogue Facebook sites do. Other times it isn’t that easy and you have to do a bit more research. Even though it does take time, there are tools to help you uncover the true origins of a piece of information, like Google’s reverse image search and even your friendly librarian. Just as a shirt is only as strong as its fabric, so too is information only as strong as its sources.
Does this mean that you have to be skeptical about every piece of information you encounter? It depends. I once awoke at 2am to find a bat in my bathroom so I asked Google how to remove it and the wikihow site (complete with pictures) worked just fine. When it comes to academic papers and any personal decisions that matter—like information involving your health, your money, and your reputation—you’re going to want to be skeptical and invest the time to do your research. While there is a return policy for most bad fashion choices, bad information choices can live forever in our social media world.
Learn more from a librarian and many other academic services on campus at this semester’s Academic Resources Fairs this week!
Academic Resources Fairs
Whether you need help with your paper, a tutor for your class, or help choosing your major or study abroad program, the Academic Resource Fair has you covered! Stop by the library and learn about the many resources and tools available for your academic success. Prizes will be given away! Stop by for 10 minutes or stay the entire time!
Monday, September 21st
Tuesday, September 22nd
Joyce Garczynski, Cook Library