THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE

Critical Linking was created to help you learn about internet literacy and what it means to be personally responsible online. It helps show you how easily content of questionable legitimacy can be introduced into the mainstream, and how to avoid it.

Click the video below to learn more about being responsible online. It may seem like "a drop in the ocean," but every drop adds up.

 
 
 

D.I.G.

The acronym D.I.G. will help you remember the three easy steps for online literacy. As citizens of the net, we should want to dig deeper than one image political memes and photoshopped “news” articles. “A survey found that 75 percent of ... searchers do not pay heed to the quality of the information they find” on the internet. At Critical Linking you can train yourself to recognize the power of the average internet user– There is strength in numbers: you can be part of the movement to help distinguish between truth and misinformation. 

 

DEVELOP critical thinking skills

IDENTIFY the author

GAUGE how the content and your own views may be biased

 
 
 

TERMS TO KNOW

ECHO CHAMBER An echo chamber does exactly what the name implies; the same things are reinforced over and over. Often algorithms used by companies like Google and Facebook aim to serve their users content that is tailored to their interests. This is when an echo chamber will develop, and content that the computer thinks you will enjoy is pushed to the top.  Real World Example: (borrowed from Eli Pariser, the author of "The Filter Bubble,") have a group of friends Google a topical issue and look at how varied the search results are. You will find that Google's first page results will be tailored to each user's interests.

ECHO CHAMBER
An echo chamber does exactly what the name implies; the same things are reinforced over and over. Often algorithms used by companies like Google and Facebook aim to serve their users content that is tailored to their interests. This is when an echo chamber will develop, and content that the computer thinks you will enjoy is pushed to the top. 
Real World Example: (borrowed from Eli Pariser, the author of "The Filter Bubble,") have a group of friends Google a topical issue and look at how varied the search results are. You will find that Google's first page results will be tailored to each user's interests.

CLICKBAIT
Clickbait is sensational or provocative content created to attract attention and draw visitors to a website. The end goal of this type of content is to create advertising revenue, or spread misinformation (whether the author is aware of it or not). 
Real World Examples: You'll Never Look at Barbie Dolls the Same Once You See These Paintings or 23 Things Parents Should Never Apologize For

CLICKBAIT BUZZWORDS All of these words are meant to entice you without actually providing any valuable content. If you see these words in a headline, it is probably Clickbait.  Real World Examples: Epic, amazing, wistful, nostalgic, striking, WOW, powerful, unbelievable, stunning, breathtaking, vintage, LOL, captivating, remarkable, omg, surreal, best, intimate, touching, you won’t believe what happens next, NSFW, incredible, win, most magical, fail, eye-opening, cure

CLICKBAIT BUZZWORDS
All of these words are meant to entice you without actually providing any valuable content. If you see these words in a headline, it is probably Clickbait. 
Real World Examples: Epic, amazing, wistful, nostalgic, striking, WOW, powerful, unbelievable, stunning, breathtaking, vintage, LOL, captivating, remarkable, omg, surreal, best, intimate, touching, you won’t believe what happens next, NSFW, incredible, win, most magical, fail, eye-opening, cure

CONFIRMATION BIAS Confirmation bias is our tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of something we believed. If we hear something to the contrary of our preconceptions, we are more likely to dismiss that information rather than take it into account, even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Real World Example: Watch this video that illustrates confirmation bias. As he says in the clip, "If you think something is true, you should try as hard as you can to disprove it."

CONFIRMATION BIAS
Confirmation bias is our tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of something we believed. If we hear something to the contrary of our preconceptions, we are more likely to dismiss that information rather than take it into account, even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Real World Example: Watch this video that illustrates confirmation bias. As he says in the clip, "If you think something is true, you should try as hard as you can to disprove it."

QUALIFYING STATEMENTS Qualifying statements are used in persuasive pieces to soften hard statements, and to make claims seem more trustworthy. These phrases don't add anything to the content, but will often leave room for the author to wiggle out of responsibility for the claims they are making. Here are some examples: Real World Examples: I want to say, I’m just saying, To be perfectly honest, I just want you to know, To tell you the truth, I’m not saying, I hear what you’re saying, Don’t take this the wrong way, Let’s be frank, As far as I know, I’m thinking that, Surely.

QUALIFYING STATEMENTS
Qualifying statements are used in persuasive pieces to soften hard statements, and to make claims seem more trustworthy. These phrases don't add anything to the content, but will often leave room for the author to wiggle out of responsibility for the claims they are making. Here are some examples:
Real World Examples: I want to say, I’m just saying, To be perfectly honest, I just want you to know, To tell you the truth, I’m not saying, I hear what you’re saying, Don’t take this the wrong way, Let’s be frank, As far as I know, I’m thinking that, Surely.

SPONSORED CONTENT This means that the website or organization hosting the article is being payed to talk about a product or event. While this in itself isn't inherently wrong, it can create a blurred line between news, content, and advertisements.  Real World Examples: Undisclosed sponsored content, like when Lord & Taylor Settles FTC Charges It Deceived Consumers Through Paid Article in an Online Fashion Magazine and Paid Instagram Posts by 50 “Fashion Influencers” or having "Brand Publishers" like on this Buzzfeed article. 

SPONSORED CONTENT
This means that the website or organization hosting the article is being payed to talk about a product or event. While this in itself isn't inherently wrong, it can create a blurred line between news, content, and advertisements. 
Real World Examples: Undisclosed sponsored content, like when Lord & Taylor Settles FTC Charges It Deceived Consumers Through Paid Article in an Online Fashion Magazine and Paid Instagram Posts by 50 “Fashion Influencers” or having "Brand Publishers" like on this Buzzfeed article

 
 
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DEVELOP CRITICAL THINKING

 
 

The best defense against being manipulated online is to think critically about what you are seeing and reading. That isn’t to say that there is nothing light-hearted left in the world, but just like venturing out in real life, you should always be aware of your surroundings. These questions will help you differentiate between mud-slinging, advertising, and actual content.

Are you aware of your own bias? If the content is something you agree with, are there facts to support your view, or are you sharing because you already believe it?

Think about who benefits from the claims being made: George Orwell once said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” Without creditable proof and sources, sweeping statements of flattery may not be the whole truth. 

Does the information presented seem too good to be true? Truth is in the details, and if the details seem vague and fuzzy, it is probably a good sign that the information is being misrepresented as truth.

Are you thinking and reading with an open mind? Do you find find yourself unwilling to believe in (or, disbelieve in) something because it would mean admitting you were previously wrong? There is nothing wrong with changing your mind after being given new information– it shows growth and wisdom. It was Abraham Lincoln who once said, “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” 

Conversely, are you too eager to believe? Keep a healthy level of skepticism when presented with new information. Be(ing) skeptical doesn't have to mean you are cynical. It just means you aren't ready to jump on a bandwagon (that isn’t supported by facts). Look at multiple sources, and think about the information being presented and come to your own conclusion.

Does the article use buzzwords? Don't let emotionally charged vocabulary hold you hostage. (See above in Terms to Know)

 
An eagerness to accept a viral claim can ignite memes and rumors that make their way into partisan news sources and are accepted as fact by particular audiences. Pre-existing perspectives and beliefs can lead people to bend and exaggerate the meaning of images and raw video — or to harbor sharply divergent perspectives on news coverage.
— The News Literacy Project, Peter Adams
 
 
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IDENTIFY THE SOURCE

 
 

The author of an article or internet content can be your biggest clue as to whether or not you can trust the information. Just like in a magazine or newspaper, online articles should be held to the same level of scrutiny. Think about these questions to help you unmask your source.

About the Author

  • Is the author listed?
  • Is the author with an organization or institution?
  • Does the author list their credentials? 
  • Do the author's credentials have relevance to the information presented?  

How was information for this article collected? Was it from first-hand account, second-hand accounts, or hear-say? Are the sources named or anonymous? Eyewitness testimonials are being trusted less and less in court because human memory can be easily manipulated after the fact. Make sure there are hard, indisputable facts to back up the information.

Does the author make obviously true statements to make it seem as though the argument he is making is obviously true too? The same goes for anecdotal evidence. Stories that have been passed around for decades, that you've probably heard a few versions of are examples of anecdotal evidence. Beware of statements presented as fact, when in reality, they are opinions. 

How did you find this site? Was it a link from a reputable site/source? Things that get shared on the internet tend to get separated from their original author, and just like in a game of "Telephone," the facts and details get changed over time. If the information you are reading is a story from a friend-of-a-friend, make sure you get another source to back up the claims being made. An example of this is the story warning drivers not to flash their headlights at someone who has them off at night, because it is a gang initiation trick– the rumor being that they will kill the first person that flashes their headlights at them. This story has being going around since the early 1980's but every few years, it crops back up on the internet as new information. Often accompanied with, "My police officer friend told me this" or "from the Highway Safety Patrol" to give it credibility, when in fact it is just an outright lie. 

 
 
 
 
 
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GAUGE BIAS

 
 

How to Recognize Biased Content
The old saying of, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” still holds water online. Many advertisers utilize sponsored content or the creation of “articles” about their product as a means of sneaky advertising. Many bloggers also present themselves as authorities on a subject to persuade more people of their viewpoints, when in reality, it is just their personal opinion. We must also be aware of our own leanings when dealing with new information–just because we want something to be true does not mean it is. With 1000's of articles chumming the murky waters of the web, don't let misleading content devour you. 

Confirmation Bias 
Confirmation bias is our tendency to favor information that confirms what we already think or believe. For example, if a person thinks we need stricter immigration laws, they will seek out information to support this thought. Any time they read an article with "evidence" supporting this view, they will become even more convicted in their belief. Conversely, someone with the exact opposite view could read the same article and take away something completely different due to their biases. Confirmation bias impairs us by taking away our objectivity and heavily influences the decisions we make. 

Is the information current? Are there dates listed? If an article is old, it could mean the information is no longer accurate. 

Is the content sponsored? Does it contain advertising? Pay attention to how a product is talked about and how it is presented. If someone is talking about a product like it is the best thing since sliced bread, they are probably getting payed to do so. 

What is the authority of the page? Look for information on the author of the site. On the Internet anyone can pose as an authority.

Does the content use qualifying statements? These often signal a weak argument. If an article contains one of these kinds of statements, it is a pretty good indicator of Grade-A bologna. (See above in Terms to Know)