How to Combat Misinformation and Find Reputable Sources Online

By Tiffany Eve Lawrence and Jessica Hicks

Most of us spend a good chunk of our day online. It’s where we work, connect with friends, and stay involved in pop culture, news, and politics. It makes life easier and more enjoyable that we can do so much and get so much out of what we see on the internet and social media — but with that often comes information overload.

Not only is it hard to sift through everything we come across online, but it can also be tough to tell what’s true and what’s not. And during times of social unrest and political upheaval, like election season, online spaces can become overwhelming and blur the lines between fact and fiction.

The good news is that you can take concrete steps to get better at spotting misinformation and disinformation and feel more comfortable and confident when getting information online or through social media.

Misinformation Vs. Disinformation

Misinformation is inaccurate or false information. Disinformation is also false information, but it’s misleading on purpose.

The difference between misinformation and disinformation is the intent behind it: You can think of misinformation as mistaken info, whereas disinformation is deliberately false.

Both misinformation and disinformation are often made to seem more urgent, shocking, or dramatic than they really are. They quickly grab your attention, and many times, the information is taken out of context.

Additionally, both misinformation and disinformation have harmful effects because they purposely divide people. Though there is no concrete way to stop the spread of false information, you can protect yourself from it by digging into what you read and watch on social media.

How to Fact-Check Information

Although a source may seem well-informed, and what they may appear very real, they can still spread misinformation. Taking the following steps when you see  political, health-related, or other types of information on social media can help you ensure it’s rooted in fact.

  • Pause and breathe. Scrolling social media is one of the fastest ways we take in info. Taking a deep, slow breath can help you slow down, process information, and make better decisions about what you’re watching or reading. Experts recommend breathing in for four seconds, holding for seven, and exhaling for eight seconds.
  • Check the credibility of the source. Ask yourself questions like: Is this person an expert on the subject? What kind of schooling or training do they have on this topic? What are their motivations for sharing this information?
  • Look for citations. People sharing ideas online should also share what’s informing them. Reliable sources include government sites, studies from peer-reviewed journals, and research papers.
  • Opt for neutrality. People who present extremes may be pushing a political agenda or looking to marginalize others. Stick to neutral sources who state the facts and contribute information in a nonjudgmental tone.
  • Check for bias. You can use a media bias chart to see where a news outlet leans politically. This can inform the kind of reporting they do, the sources they consult, and the way they present information.

In addition to the fact-checking steps above, you can:

  • Pay attention to how the information makes you feel. If a post doesn’t sit right with you, it may be a sign that something’s up — maybe the person or source is only painting half the picture or has a motive they haven’t shared. Take your gut feeling as a sign to fact-check the information.
  • Recognize the effect of your echo chamber. Many of us live within an echo chamber, where all of the opinions and ideas we come across on social media align with our own. It can be troubling when something you see online doesn’t align with your political beliefs, but that doesn’t always mean it’s false.
  • Ask an adult you trust for guidance. Processing everything you read and watch on social media can be a lot. You can make it easier by talking to an adult you trust who can help you make sense of it all. It could be a parent or relative, librarian, teacher, tutor, coach, or someone else in your life who you can rely on.

How to Find Credible Sources

Just because an account is verified on social platforms doesn’t mean you should trust it. Sometimes it can be a way to know if an account is authentic (meaning that person or entity is who they say they are and not a fake profile). But a blue check mark doesn’t always mean the account is a reliable source that shares research- or science-backed information. 

On some platforms, like X (formerly Twitter), individuals can pay to have a verified account. This gives people and groups posting fake information a level of credibility they don’t deserve.You should feel empowered to look into any social media account further, whether it’s a person or an organization. Here are some ways to find sources you can trust.

Identify Relevant Degrees

Certain degrees and certifications make a person an expert in the field and give them the ability to speak with authority on a given subject. 

For example, a person with an advanced degree in psychology, such as a master’s degree or PhD,  has the expertise to give mental health advice and weigh in on issues within the healthcare system. However, if the person has a PhD, but it’s in engineering, they probably aren’t the best person to trust for information about emotional health.

Look Into Their Experience

A person doesn’t always need an advanced degree to be qualified to speak on a subject. For example, a journalist with years of experience covering politics could be a reliable source to better understand the election, even though they may not have a master’s degree. 

Use Reputable Websites

To get accurate information on websites:

  • Use federal and state government websites. You can check the facts on new and existing policies and rights in your state by going straight to its .gov website. For example, if you are a California resident, search California.gov for trusted information.
  • Look to .org and .edu sites. They are generally more reputable than .com or .net websites. 
  • Bookmark or save fact-check websites. Politifact analyzes social media posts and statements from politicians and shares how truthful they are. FactCheck.org offers evidence to prove or disprove political statements and allows you to submit questions when a political post goes viral or an influencer shares a view on a policy.
  • Pay attention to fact-checking labels. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) often label posts they have deemed misleading, altered, or false.

Learn More About Social Media Literacy and Mental Health

Pushing back on misinformation and disinformation has two parts: trusting that you have the skills and knowledge to tell fact from fiction, and feeling empowered to ask questions and dig deeper when things don’t feel quite right. You can use the resources below to keep learning and take care of your mental health along the way. 

Media Literacy Resources

Mental Health Resources

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Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.