Faking News: Avoiding Internet Hoaxes prompts

Here is a page you should read to set in context the process of hoax-busting.

Introduction

I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Myers, whose Investigative Research on the Net lectures at the BBC informed these notes.  I would also suggest looking at November Learning’s notes on Internet literacy, which are a great editorial starting point in this field.

The purpose of a site

  1. Is the site trying to sell you something?

  2. Are they trying to entertain, or to advocate a particular view point, or a combination of these?

  3. Who is funding the site?

  4. Fundamentally: why does this site exist?

The Happy Endings Foundation

Full story behind hoax, Inkygirl (8 October 2007):

Daily Mail duped (4 October 2007):

Is there an About page, or an FAQ page? It should contain details which can be double checked (phone numbers, addresses etc.). If there isn’t one, why not?

The Author

  1. Are they an expert in the field they claim?

  2. Do they have ‘previous’?

  3. What else can you find out about him/her which might bring into question their reliability?

Example: London Mega-Mosque

Daily Express opinion on London ‘Mega-Mosque

E-petition on Government website

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Abolish plans to build a £100 million mega Mosque. Submitted by Jill Barham”

Google “jill barham”.

URL and types of webspace

  • What does the site’s URL tell us about its reliability?

Web addresses are like folder directories on your PC:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_name#Overview

The sub domain of this Internet site (en. – English) of the domain name wikipedia, which is a non-profit, rather than commercial domain (hence .org rather than .com or .co.uk) contains a folder called wiki (/wiki/), which in turn contains a file called Domain_name#Overview.

There are several different types of web space:

  • Owned domain name:

Acquired from a web host, these sites can be verified for their authenticity (and openness) using whois.sc (see below).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/

  • University web space:

Students and academic staff may be experts in particular fields, but may chose to write about subjects in which they are interested, perhaps from a partisan point of view.

http://www.arts.yorku.ca/sosc/pcraven/profile.html

  • Free ISP web space:

ISPs often provided free web space to their users – look for a user name in the lower-level domain of any url you find from (tiscalli.co.uk, aol.com etc), or look at free web space domains (geocities.com and tripod.com etc.).

http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/8514/somalia.htm

Meta-web Information

  • Who else links to the page you’ve found?

Use the Link function either in Google or Altavista to find out. Useful for establishing bias and partisanship in a site. See:

Iraq Body Count

Most sites linking to this site are liberal/left. Search for John Slobda (registrant of site), to discover he is a prominent figure in the Stop The War coallition.

Domain registration

  • Who has registered a website?

Whois

There is no guarantee that the user has put legitimate information in here, and indeed it is possible and entirely legitimate to have these personal details hidden from public view. But of course if this is the case, you may be drawn to certain conclusions about the reliability of the site in question.

The Ad Hoc committee for Lord Black site has its registration information hidden: why? What have they to hide? See also Iraq Body Count, and The Happy Endings Foundation sites.

Date Checker

  • When was a site last updated?

Timeliness can in some cases be germane to the reliability of the sources you are looking at. However, be aware that this tool only really works with sites where a significant amount of time has passed, and will not work for pages with dynamic content.

Date checker code:

javascript:alert(document.lastModified)

Check: The Ad Hoc Committee for Lord Black

Way Back When Machine

  • How can I find out what information a website contained in the past?

The Way Back When machine

The Way Back When machine is an excellent way to pry into previous versions of web pages This can be useful where pages disappear, move to new locations, or change in content. Sadly it is possible to design web pages in such a way that their pages do not get into the servers of the Way Back When machine (involving the robot.txt of a website), and indeed it is entirely possible to approach the webmaster of this site and request that content be removed. Nonetheless, this can be a very useful tool for uncovering lost or unavailable material.

A similar (albeit far more restricted) means of accessing past pages of websites is in the cached option you often see attached to Google results. Click on these links to see what the website looked like when it was last indexed (website indexing can be up to 2-3 months out of date), which goes some way to explaining why from time to time you click on a page from your search results which don’t actually feature the terms you’ve searched for – that page is gone!

See: Cheating Scum

Open Directories

  • How can I avoid finding hoax sites through internet searching?

DMOZ Open Directory

Yahoo Directory

When searching for the official websites of corporations and other large organisations, it is always worth looking for them within Open Directories. The veracity and reliability of information about websites in these directories is managed by real human beings, who are ‘experts’ in the fields which they manage in the directory. Search engines cannot offer such protection, so there is at least a modicum or reliability about the results you find in them:

Dowethics vs Dow Chemical Company.

Source Code

  • What if I find a page with images or graphics I recognize, and want to prove its reliability?

If you are in any way suspicious of a site, especially in relation to what might seem like doctored or purloined graphics or images, check the source code of the site in question. If a site proclaiming to be a legitimate organisation has ‘borrowed’ from another site, this might lead you to be more than a little skeptical about the authors.

Hoax-busting sites

Have a browse through some of the established hoax-busting sites to see if anyone else is discussing or alerting surfers to the unreliability of a source:

Snopes

Urban Legends

Museum of Hoaxes

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One Response to “Faking News: Avoiding Internet Hoaxes prompts”

  1. Content, context and code: verifying information online | Online Journalism Blog Says:

    […] Murray Dick gives more advice on the other elements of a web address, and recommends using an open d…, as these are maintained by people, not computers, are less likely to contain hoax websites. […]

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