Skip to Main Content
Research Guides

social media icons

Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

Reliability Rating

Reliability Meter with a white arrow pointing to 'Least Reliable' in the red zone and text on the right that says 'Most Reliable' in green.

RED: Be wary, these sources run the gamut from news-sponsored material to complete fabrications, use one of the evaluation tools to check the credibility of the source.

What are social media?

Social media "create or enrich human communities by enabling instantaneous and multimodal (text, photo, voice, and video) communication around the globe and by offering software architectures that give users the power to generate, represent, manage, and enact their own social capital. The adaptability, ease of use, and multidimensional utility of social media tools have enabled them to affect virtually every aspect of twenty-first-century social, political, intellectual, and economic life."  (Vallor 2014)

Traditional authorship and publishing rules don't always apply in social media:

  • Anyone with a device can author and share (publish) social media content.
  • Social media content varies drastically. Content may be fact, opinion, or fake. Content ranges from personal musings and photographs to research data collected by experts.  
  • Social media content may be published by professional organizations who employ fact checkers or your high school friend who re-posts every conspiracy theory he reads about.  
  • The purpose of social media content may be to inform, educate, or mislead.  
  • Anything goes in social media, so it's up to each of us to evaluate content and determine its' reliability.    

Evaluating Social Media Accounts

Video courtesy of NewsWise

ASK YOURSELF: Does this tweet pass the SIFT test?

SIFT is a 4-step method to quickly ascertain the accuracy of social media posts and websites by using fact-checkers' strategies of cross-referencing information.



  • Before you share a post or a tweet STOP. Ask yourself whether you know and trust the source of the information. If you don't, use the other steps below to get a sense of what you're looking at. Don't read it or share it until you know what it is.


  • What is the source's or author's reputation?
  • Check out the user profile. Does this person or organization seem to be an expert in the field, a legitmate organization or a reputable media outlet?
  • What does wikipedia say about this organization or publication? Most major organizations and publications have a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia can often tell you what is the purpose of the organization and any political slant it may have that might color the information it disseminates.
  • For more info see Check the Source.


  • Can you find similar coverage of the topic elsewhere? Use google to see if there are other more trusted sources (newspapers, reputable organizations, experts) that corroborate the information. If a story is true there should be many sources covering it.
  • For more info see Check the Claim.
Trace claims


  • Check the date. With fast-moving stories such as the Covid-19 pandemic, information changes daily. Click through to the to original source post.
  • Does the original story substantiate the claim in the post? Keep in mind that the framing of a story can be deceptive. Click through to the original source post and check.
  • Find the original image. Do a reverse image search on Tineye or Google Images. There may be original context with the image or a more complete version of the image may be available.
  • For more info see Check the Image.

More on SIFT

Tips to spot a fake Twitter (or other social media) account

The social media universe contains fake accounts including bots (automated software that runs an account). Be suspicious when you see an account that:

  • Claims to be a well known source (such as a major news network) but has only a few posts or has only been active for a short time.
  • Posts more than 50 times a day. 
  • Has a high percentage of retweets & likes (often for the same post) rather than original posts.
  • Has a high number of followers but a low number of follows.
  • Uses a silhouette rather than image and has less personal information. If an image is used then check it out using a reverse image search like TinEye.

Follow the News Literacy Project's advice to practice information hygiene :"Help sanitize social media feeds. Flag misinformation when you see it on social media. Failing to do so leaves behind an infected post that will influence those who see it after you."


Content used on this page was adapted from:  

Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab. #BotSpot: Twelve Ways to Spot a Bot. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Caulfield Mike. Introducing SIFT. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Caulfield, Mike. “Sift (The Four Moves).” Hapgood,19 June 2019.Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Hanson, Jarice. "Social Media."  The Social Media Revolution: An Economic Encyclopedia of Friending, Following, Texting, and Connecting, Greenwood, 2016, pp. 319-323. Gale Ebooks. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.  

Monmouth University. Media Literacy & "Fake News": How "Fake News" Spreads. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

News Literacy Project. Classroom Connection: Practicing information hygiene. Accessed 1 Apr. 2020. 

North Essex Community College. FAKE News vs. REAL NEWS: How to Determine the Reliability of Sources. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Vallor, Shannon.  "Social Media."  Ethics, Science, Technology, and Engineering: A Global Resource, edited by J. Britt Holbrook, 2nd ed., vol. 4, Macmillan Reference USA, 2015, pp. 203-206. Gale Ebooks. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.