Author – Is someone identified as the author of the site or article? Google them, look for a personal website. If their byline links to an archive of previous work, read through it to see if they cover the topic regularly. If they’re an academic, Howard Rheingold has a tip to check their credibility: “use the scholarly productivity index that derives a score from the scholar’s publications, citations by other scholars, grants, honors, and awards. If you want to get even more serious, download a free copy of Publish or Perish software, which analyzes scientific citations from Google Scholar according to multiple criteria. Again, don’t trust just one source. Triangulate.”

Content – Is the article citing facts and are they accurate? Or do you read it and realize there isn’t fact, statistic, quote or citation mentioned. Does it rely on generalized personal narratives that lack specificity?

Copy – Rosenberg advocates checking to see if the content is original. “Grab a chunk of text (a sentence or so), put it in quotes, and plug it into Google to see whether there are multiple versions of the text you’re reading.”

Links – Does it link out to reputable sources? Is it littered with keyword ads, or have no links at all? Also, critically, see who is linking to the site or page in question. Here’s what Rosenberg wrote about this: “If your hunt for links in turns up a ton of references from dubious sites, your article may be part of a Google-gaming effort. If you see lots of inbound links from sites that seem reputable to you, that’s a better sign. “

Comments/Tweets/Likes – Are people interacting with the content? Be sure to check if all of the comments are spam, and also to see if tweets come from active users rather than bots. Finally is anyone Like-ing the content or the site in general? One easy way to look for social media chatter for a given link is to install the ConvoTrack bookmarklet. Run it while on the site in question and it will show if people have shared the link on Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, Reddit, HackerNews and some of the major blogging platforms.

Bookmarking – Rheingold noted that a good way to check on a piece of content—or website in general—is to see if people are bookmarking it. “See if the source has been bookmarked on a social bookmarking service like Delicious or Diigo; although it shouldn’t be treated as a completely trustworthy measurement, the number of people who bookmark a source can furnish clues to its credibility.”

Social Media Content

A good starting point for thinking about how to verify a tweet is this post from Craig Kanalley. (Here’s my related column about how to correct tweets.) He covers all of the important and basic points.

As I detailed in a recent column about the crisis-mapping project Ushahidi, it’s important to evaluate the network of the person providing the information. If you’re trying to verify a tweet, see if reputable, trustworthy people are interacting with that user, or if they have retweeted the information. If this person they followed by people in the geographic area where they claim to be? Does the list of people they follow seem to mesh with their profile and tweets? For Facebook, have they tagged the appropriate people in their status update and have those people responded with likes or comments?

Finally, take it offline. Rather than blindly retweeting or Facebooking something, practice the discipline of verification and get in touch with the source. DM them on Twitter, send them a message on Facebook.

And no column about evaluating web content would be complete without pointing to Snopes.com and the Museum of Hoaxes as a place to check for hoaxes and rumors.

Correction of the Week

“In a feature looking at the subject of postnatal depression among fathers, we should have quoted Andy Maxwell as saying “a stay-at-home dad is still unusual – parenthood as a full-time role is still considered women’s work”. Instead, our shorthand version of the last part of his remark had him seeming to say “full-time parenting is women’s work” (‘There’s no support for fathers’, 9 September, page 10, G2).” – The Guardian

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Craig Silverman is the editor of RegretTheError.com and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of OpenFile.ca and a columnist for the Toronto Star.