Skip to main content
Research Guides

Image of an iPhone screen with social media app icons.

Photo: Christiaan008 / Social media /Flickr (CC)

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)

Social media are comprised of four characteristics:  

  1. Hardware (smartphones, laptops, etc.) 
  2. Software or platforms that make social networking possible (Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.)
  3. Web 2.0 features that allow the Internet to be used as an interactive communication tool
  4. Content or messages that are shared amongst users.  

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 facebook content using the CRAAP Test

Spotting fake Twitter followers and identifying fake photographs

ASK YOURSELF: Who, What, When, Where, Why?

The 5Ws help you to evaluate the information that you find.  Different criteria will be more or less useful depending on your need.

Who:  Author

  • Who is the author (individual, organization)?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic (occupation, years of experience, position, education, other)?
  • What is the author's institutional affiliation, if any? (educational, institution, nonprofit organization, company, other)
  • Does the author usually post or tweet on this topic?  If so, what do past or updated posts say?  Do they fill in more details?  
  • Is the author in the place they are tweeting or posting about?
  • Who is in the poster's network and who follows them?  
  • Look for more information about the author.  "Googling someone" can be revealing, but be sure to consider the author.  If the viewpoint is radical or controversial, expect to find detractors.  

What:  Accuracy & Reliability  

  • Is the content well-researched?  
  • Are there editors or fact checkers?  
  • Are there references to sources of information supporting any statements made or viewpoints held?  
  • Does the item include grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors?  
  • Is the source of the information reliable?
  • How does the content hold up to other information?  It's okay to doubt.  Skepticism should be the rule of thumb when reading information on social media.
  • Double check the facts and sources.   Verify the information by finding it in another source. 

When:  Currency & Age

  • When was the item written, published, or posted?  
  • ​What is the age of the social media account in question?  Be wary of recently created accounts.

Where:  Platform & Publisher

  • Who posted the content?  Is it the original author or someone re-posting the content?  
  • Can you trace the information back to a real person?  
  • Are you able to contact the original author and ask questions if needed?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the source?  (More info about URLs and Internet Domains)

Why:  Purpose & Objectivity

  • ​What is the purpose of the content?
  • Why does the account or site exist?  
  • Is there a statement of mission, purpose, target audience?  
  • Is it selling, promoting, ranting, or sponsoring?
  • Does the author
  • What is the purpose of the information?  Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade?
  • Do the authors / sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

How to spot a fake Twitter post

Check the account history of the source. Two clues that it's fake are:

  • If it claims to be a well known source (like CNN or CBS) and only has a few posts in its history.  
  • If it's a well known source and the account has only been active for a short time.  

Images of an event are often reused to deceive people.  You can check if an image has been used before on a reverse image search like TinEye.

Credits: content used on this page was adapted from FAKE News vs. REAL NEWS: How to Determine the Reliability of Sources.


Credits: content used on this page was adapted from:  

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

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 Virtual Reference Library.  Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.