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You cannot trust the internet, but you can trust news websites. Can you not?

In this day and age the internet plays a very large role in our lives. Vacation pictures are going on Facebook and Instagram, our funny conversations with friends are Tweeted and Retweeted and songs we or our children sing are recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Most of us are glued to our phone and computer and rely on the internet for all sorts of things. Not just recreational and fun things, but we rely on the internet as a source of news and information as well. And that is exactly where it gets problematic.

Imagine that you are scrolling through your favourite news website to see if there is anything new happening in the world. You see a catchy headline, click on the story and start to read. The story sounds plausible and has a picture with proof that the described situation happened. So the story must be true, right? Why else would a news website give this story any attention? Well, think again. Of course a news website is dedicated to real news and real events and not fake stories, but even people who write for news website might get caught in this web of internet lies. Take for example, the story that has been circulating about a tourist who came back from a vacation in Bali and found out that there was a spider living in his body. This story has circulated on social media, but has also been posted on various news website all around the world. Websites like the Australian NT News, the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad, and the Irish Daily Mirror to name a few have published this story. It was later stated by various experts that spiders are not naturally inclined to show this kind of behavior and that, therefore, the story was fake.

Verification steps

Even journalists might find it difficult to verify certain stories. Unless you witnessed something in person, it is not easy to determine whether or not a certain situation has actually happened. So how do you know what event is real and what event is not? A sufficient, concrete answer to this question is not easily found. According to Claire Wardle there is not any technology that can verify a specific user-generated content (such as the Twitter picture of the man with the spider in his body) with a 100 percent certainty. However, there are a few guidelines that can help you predict whether a story might be true or not. Wardle describes the following steps that can help you determine how plausible a story is and that can help you as a journalist decide whether or not to publish a certain story. There are more verification methods that you can use, but this blog post will focus on the four main factors. If you are interested in other verification methods or more detailed descriptions, you can look at the Verification handbook.

Step 1 & 2: Look at the provenance and the source
When a certain story has been shared on social media and other websites multiple times, it becomes difficult to determine who the original source is. The first thing to do is to browse though all the links and go back to the first time the story has been published. When you find the website or the profile of the person who has brought the story into the world, there are a few things you need to pay attention to. Look at previous articles or status updates, the people in the friend list or the followers and the pictures and videos that have been shared. Do you notice anything striking about these things? Have they been talking about serious matters or more about fun and playful matters? Use your common sense here. If something already seems a bit off at this point, it probably is. However, if you want to be sure, there are a few tools you can use to verify the information you have gathered during your search. Reverse image search tools such as Google Images or TinEye can, for example, help you check whether a picture has been published online before. Another way to check a story is to simple get in touch with the original publisher and ask him or her questions about the content.

Step 3: Look at the date
When looking at pictures or videos it is not only important to see if the picture or video has been posted online before, but also if what date it is taken. The date can reveal if it could be taken during the event that is shown. You can also verify the date by checking the weather of that specific date. Let’s for example say that the picture you have found was taken on the 1th of November 2014 in the Netherlands. In the picture you found you can see that it was a very dark, rainy day, which sounds plausible if you think that November is indeed an autumn month. However, if you go to Google and you look at the weather that day, you can see that it was actually a pretty hot and sunny day. Thus, the picture you have found probably is not taken on that exact date.

Step 4: Look at the location
Besides the date, the location is also an important factor. You can verify the location by searching it on Google Street View. If there are key elements missing from the Google Street View picture that are shown in the picture itself, it probably is not a real, untouched picture.


To answer the question proposed in the title of this blog post, you probably  can trust news websites most of the time since their main goal is indeed to provide you information about real events and not to share fake stories. However, the same lesson, namely ‘do not trust everything you see on the internet’, that applies to the internet in general also applies to news websites. You cannot trust everything that is reported on news websites either. Use your common sense when you look at news websites as a source of information. And when you are still in doubt, make use of the tools that are available to you to verify the information. The most important thing to remember is that when something sounds off, it probably is even when it is published on a website with the intention of sharing only real news.



6 thoughts on “You cannot trust the internet, but you can trust news websites. Can you not?

  1. Overall, I think you have a clear story with practical tips for the audience. For journalists it becomes clear what they can do to verify stories, including which tools they can use. You did a good job on that, which is – I think – the main purpose.
    Some parts, however, are a little bit too literally translated from Dutch to English, or are missing interpunction. This causes some sentences look more complex than they should. Try to place some usefull comma’s in order to avoid this. In addition, I think it is a useful addition to place some images. Your real life example, for instance, would become more to life with a visualization of the post, and more recognizable for your audience as well. One last tip is you may can use more hyperlinks (for example when you’re talking about the tools such as TinyEye). For readers it will be helpful if they directly have the possibility to click on it.


    Posted by Maaike's blog | 7 November 2014, 15:32
  2. Don’t you think the Internet, and so also the news websites, sometimes needs falsehoods? In my opinion false messages like hoaxes have a positive effect as well. I think they keep the readers and the journalists of an article more attentive. It is also a way to make people aware of subjects that normally don’t get attention. I’m interested in your opinion.


    Posted by mennobroeders | 7 November 2014, 16:09
    • Interesting perspective. Do you believe this applies to all fake messages? Because I do agree with you that in certain cases a hoax can be helpful in attracting attention to a certain topic. However, I don’t think every hoax is helpful in that way. Some hoaxes do have a negative influence, like cancelling a holiday to Bali because you believe a spider can also crawl into your body or causing chaos among citizens because they believe the Ebola-virus has reached their town.


      Posted by reflectionsonthewrittenword | 7 November 2014, 22:41
  3. In an ideal world, yes, I do think all news websites should be trustworthy. But I wonder how many lies we read every day because of issues like:

    – Propaganda (maybe you’ve seen this example about NOS: http://www.geenstijl.nl/mt/archieven/2014/09/smerige_leugenaars.html)
    – Money (did someone get paid to write from a certain perspective)
    – Time pressure (I can imagine journalists have to work under very high pressure to publish stories which could negatively affect the verification process).

    If stories are influenced due to one of these three issues I think it is almost impossible for readers to detect any lies. But on the other hand, there are also a lot of messages shared on the internet of which you can know that they simply don’t make any sense if you ask yourself some critical questions or search for other sources online to verify a story. To a certain extent, I think people will always be responsible for what they do and do not believe. And some are willing to put more effort into finding out (more pieces of) the truth, while others believe everything they read as long as it matches with their personal beliefs.


    Posted by idrismay | 7 November 2014, 16:22
    • Good point. I agree that you can almost never be certain that a story isn’t influenced by those factors. But even you look closely at the source of a piece of information, you can be able to tell in what degree the story could be influences. An independent newspaper will, for example, be less likely to fall victim of propaganda than a newspaper that is founded by the government. So like you said as well, it is important to be critical about the things you read.


      Posted by reflectionsonthewrittenword | 7 November 2014, 22:45

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