Is Social Media a Good Information Source?

“Most of us know 
14th feb. as valentine Day..
BUT..
In the morning of 14.02.1931 at Lahore, the legendary Bhagat Singh,Rajguru & Sukhdev were hanged to their deaths..
We only celebrate valentine day..
Let us pass this message to every 1 we know,to salute and pay respect to their sacrifice also..
Let Us Be An Indian First..!!”

This story was widely circulated on Facebook, forums and other social networks, claiming that Bhagat Singh, the legendary Indian freedom fighter, was hanged on Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1931 at Lahore. On seeing this post, I was curious to check whether it was actually so, whether we Indians were actually ignoring the great sacrifices of our heroes. It turned out that this message was a hoax, a malicious campaign which was a desperate attempt to shift people’s focus away from Valentine’s Day. Now, I am no Valentine’s Day activist, neither am I against it. But I am totally against this spread of factually incorrect information through social media networks. And this is not the only time this has happened. What worries me is that this trend has been going on for a long time and doesn’t look like ending so quickly.

Here are some of the campaigns which spread inaccurate information:

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The speed with which these campaigns become popular and spread factually incorrect information among so many people shows that many Indians are too trusting of information found on the internet and rarely evaluate the credibility of a website’s information. But let’s face it – children are on social media in school and out of school, even if their parents have told them they can’t be, and even if the school has rules about being on phones during school hours. So what do we do? Do we block children’s access to social media? Or do we guide them to help them evaluate whether the information on a website is credible or not?

According to me, we should do the latter. This will not only help them access social media sensibly but according to educators Shenglan Zheng, Nell K. Duke and Laura M. Jimenez, this will also help them to:

  1. Increase children’s awareness of the need to evaluate information anywhere on the internet for credibility.
  2. Develop students’ understanding of the dimensions on which they should evaluate website information.
  3. Improve children’s overall judgements about the credibility of a given website (social media network or any other website).

To achieve these aims, they developed the WWWDOT Framework. WWWDOT is an acronym for the factors to consider when evaluating a website as a possible source of information. The factors which need to be considered as per this framework are:

  1. Who wrote it and what credentials do they have?

It is very important to identify the author and the author’s or the organization’s credentials when reading on the internet, where organizations to filter out factually incorrect information often do not exist.

  1. Why was it written?

Identifying the author’s writing purpose is crucial because writing purposes to a large extent affect the thoroughness and accuracy of the content. Many times, factually incorrect information is spread through malicious campaigns by people because the way the information is twisted by them, favours their political or intellectual bias.

  1. When was it written or updated?

Information in some fields like physics, psychology and biology can have a limited life because of rapid advances in its field or discipline.

  1. Does it help meet my needs?

It refers to the relevance of the website for the reader’s purposes rather than the credibility of the site’s information per se.

  1. Organization of the website

If you have knowledge of how the text is structured in a website, it will facilitate your comprehension of printed text. Hence, being aware of the organization of the website helps readers navigate the site, find useful information, and understand the content.

  1. To-do list for the future

It can include websites like Wikipedia or other texts that readers plan to cross-check for whether the information is consistent with the website that they just evaluated. It may also include content experts they want to consult.

Yes, there’s a lot of information out there on the internet – truly unprecedented in human history – but students must realize that it also requires a rich understanding of why and how to evaluate the credibility of information found there so that they are not fooled by these malicious campaigns.

[Originally published on November 5, 2016]

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