Tips for evaluating the credibility of real-time information

By Ashley Crockett

Everyone is plugged in these days, consuming news at lightning-fast speed. Even the news of Osama bin Laden's death broke on Twitter before President Obama announced it.

This photo of a shark in a Puerto Rican street after Hurricane
Irene was nothing more than a clever editing job.

At the 2011 ONA Conference in Boston, Craig Silverman and Mandy Jenkins led a session called "B.S. Detection for Journalists," which was full of tips for quickly determining a source's reliability.

For breaking news on Twitter, try to track down who first reported the information. Then, go through this checklist:

- When was the account created?
- Is this a regularly updated account?
- Is there a picture?
- Do they have "normal" followers?
- Do they interact with other users?

If all that checks out, find the person's Klout score, or Google the name and handle of the account. If nothing seems suspicious, contact the user.

This next step is critical: get the person's phone number and call them for more information.

Find out where the information originated. Ask, "Did you witness this? Can you tell me what exactly happened and when? If not, where did you get the information?" Follow up by asking who else might have the information.

Now, you're still not ready to completely trust what you've been told. Look at the tweets leading up to and following the breaking news to see if they follow a logical order.

If that all seems legitimate, contact official sources and search Twitter to see if any reputable accounts are reporting the same thing. Don't forget to try reaching out to your followers for help verifying the information.

The biggest step in determining whether or not you should share the information is answering one question: Is it worth the risk if the information is wrong?

For even more tips for credibility checks online, take a look at Silverman and Jenkins' presentation slides.

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