“Is this source legit?” a friend of mine once asked about a news article I shared over social media. Being relatively active on social media, I too at times can get pretty feisty online when it comes to self-expression. The realm of social media can get real chaotic, real fast. Knowing who and what to trust could get tricky at times.

The fact of the matter is, not all unfamiliar news sources are misinformation sources or fake news peddlers, and we should not confine our coffee table media sources only to the mainstream/popular press lest we miss out on alternative media gems. Alternative Media (the good/trustworthy ones that adhere to ethics) churn out fresh, new, and uncharted takes on reality that could be just as credible and of high journalistic quality as its more mainstream counterparts.

Just because a source isn’t popular, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss it entirely. If you shun each unfamiliar media source out there automatically, we might as well throw Internet’s democratizing power in the trash.

The question indeed is – how do we spot these rotten press tomatoes in the digital bunch? Here’s a few ways:

1. Take the (click)bait.

Don’t stop at the headline, the tiny social media captions/excerpts, or the bombarded comments section. Find the whole story and look at all possible angles. If you objectively find that the source is truly dodgy right off the bat, then at least you know more accurately and you didn’t rely on mere hearsay or fuzzy first impressions. Read the next points to know how to better discern fake news from the well-written.

2. Get to the bottom of it.

Now that you’ve reached the full content, verify the sources and citations. If it cites sources completely and provides direct access to the actual material (i.e. direct quotes, interviews, videos, links, references, etc.), then there’s a pretty good chance that it’s legit. Otherwise, if the news bite is all narrative but mentions no verifiable source at all for you to follow through on your quest for truth, then best to take a look around for more credible media sources.

3. Triangulate.

Look at other news source formats other than what shows up on your social news feed. Having multiple sources of data is a great way to validate information. Be in the scene and observe, ask experts, or if that’s logistically far-fetched, check out secondary sources like authentic documents, transcriptions, books, or look at other forms of media such as videos that might help you understand the context more.

4. Be aware of your own cognitive biases.

Yes, at times we could be our own foes as we scavenge the jungle of information for authenticity. One example is what is known in psychology as Confirmation Bias or “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs (Encyclopaedia Britannica).” It basically occurs when we accept information only when it agrees with us, so we block out views and sources that we don’t like regardless of its accuracy/credibility. If we are not careful, we might tend to reject certain media publications simply because it doesn’t align with our own personal biases.

To combat this, we must humbly open our minds to the idea that views and media content opposing ours could be more accurate once we research more about it. Try not to be too stubborn in thinking that your view is the absolute and only correct opinion out there. Remember, a German philosopher once said that the enemy of truth, more than lies, is conviction (Friedrich Nietzsche).

5. Be a responsible citizen journalist – (micro)blog like you are the press.

Let’s talk ethics not just for the formal press, but for us netizens too. The American Press Institute defines journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.” So every time we curate and share information on the web and on social media, we engage in journalism – BUT that definitely does not make us a journalist overnight, not by an inch. 

Being a journalist, as a citizen or as a professional, requires a keen understanding and appreciation of journalism ethics. So blogging (even micro-blogging via social media) is journalism by definition, and all of us bloggers on social media (or wherever you choose to publish your thoughts) should strive to behave accordingly with the highest regard for ethics and sobriety.

The journalist code of ethics is not as intimidating as it may seem to a first timer, it is simply an 11-point solemn oath for how to responsibly engage as you scrupulously process and pass on information to the public. The journalists’ code of ethics is actually quite approachable and relatively easy to grasp if you just exert a wee bit of extra effort to check it out (see the Philippine Press Institute – Journalists’ Code of Ethics). Of course putting these principles into practice is a different ball game.

If you haven’t heard of the code of ethics for journalists or would like to remember why you do what you do, I hope that after this journal entry you do look it up, share this, and be reminded of what it means to be a productive member of this digital, humane society. Talk to us at Stratmond Communication to continue the discourse on a more personal level and let’s see if your campaign is ethically right on track.

May Gordoncillo Payabyab

May is a seasoned expert in communication science and development. She earned her Masters Degree in Communication Research from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Another significant training that she acquired was on Six Sigma's Product Design Sprint for Innovation. Her vast array of corporate to academic experiences in the field has finely sharpened her expertise in communication planning, brand management, stakeholder relations, marketing, new media development, and social scientific research. May now runs her own budding communication consulting firm in the Philippines that caters to clients here and abroad.

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