By Robert Wood, Social Media Advisor – The Prison Scholar Fund

In today’s world, the availability of information and the rate at which it is disseminated, especially via social media, make it imperative that we are increasingly cautious about our sources of information. We must be certain to qualify important information though due diligence as necessary. For academic institutions or trade schools you can simply check their credentials online to be certain they are properly accredited. However, in checking the credibility of social media posts we must understand the motivation and credibility of those posts. I recommend a three pronged approach which includes the following factors: Purpose, motivation (including ulterior motives), and qualification(s). Since the information you’re checking out should serve a purpose for you as well as the individual(s) or organization posting I’ll begin there.

The purpose of any information is generally to inform, persuade, entertain, or a hybrid among those. The purpose of social media posts is important because it helps create context for that information. You can usually look at the mission statement of an organization to find out what their purpose is and how their postings relate to it. You can also view some of their other articles or posts to see the type of material they usually put forth and if includes a common theme which supports, or runs counter to, their mission statement or stated purpose. Looking at industry or trade  gives you a much clearer picture of the purpose an individual or organization has. Purpose is really important in evaluation of information because beyond the greater ostensible purpose, secondary purpose may drive biases. Truthful information which promotes a purpose is fine, but just like at some used car lots you must beware of omitted information which might be important and/or information which is given out of context or even falsified. Biases may motivate the information being posted and that can easily lead to inaccurate or gravely distorted information being put into circulation.

By understating the person(s) or organization providing the information you can better understand their motive(s) for providing it. It also becomes easier for you to spot potentials for biases or ulterior motives. A good example of this is that if you watch Fox News you can expect a conservative bias. Conversely, if you watch MSNBC you can expect liberal/progressive bias. Their motives are to report the news. Their secondary, or ulterior motives are to promote conservative ideology (Fox News) and liberal/progressive (MSNBC). If you’re watching sports and a player is speaking about the game they will usually lean towards their own team. Some things you can look at for signals of possible bias include sponsors, business affiliations, social circles, religious beliefs and political beliefs or affiliations. What you and to do is understand how those thing relate to the subject matter being posted about. Having a bias doesn’t necessarily mean that a person or organization will post inaccurate information. It only means that you may want to look deeper into the information before considering it credible. With all of the due diligence in regards to purpose or bias you must also be sure the person(s) or organization providing the information or opinion is qualified to do so.

Unfortunately, in some instances, you may find out that there are people or even organizations giving advice they are not qualified to give. Even the opinions of some individuals may be based on unsubstantiated bodies of knowledge. It’s very important to make sure our sources of information at least meet a minimum threshold of qualification to be genuine sources of valid information. In order to do that, you start by looking at the individual or entity online. If they have credentials listed, check the origin of those credentials to be certain they are genuine, then check to be certain the accrediting body is qualified to do so. For business, you can also check the Better Business Bureau and/or the local Chamber of Commerce. Look at the Facebook page and other social media to see who individuals are plugged into and take any biases that may be indicated by that information into consideration. Although this level of diligence is not necessary in every case, when it is, due diligence must be applied. It can make a huge difference. Especially in cases which the information may be used for important decision making or worldview shaping.

Because accurate information is so important, qualifying sources by checking their purposes, motivations, and qualifications is imperative. In this age of hyper-availability of information, especially via social media, we can’t afford  to grant credibility without accountability. Many important factors shape our worldviews. Humankind has the unique opportunity to actually shape our world to a greater extent than any other species on Earth. That means seeing the world accurately via a well informed worldview is critically important. As social media and modern technology continue to make information increasingly pervasive, the need for due diligence in utilizing that information increases. Knowledge and information are major drivers of human progress. Accuracy and due diligence are their guardians.

Robert Wood, our Social Media Advisor, is a volunteer for the PSF. His Tweets can be found on Twitter @prisonscholars under the hashtag #RLW_PSF. He can be reached via any of our social media outlets or emailed at the following address: rlw@prisonscholars.org.

If you’d like to hear more from PSF, please sign up for our quarterly newsletter, where Robert is a valued contributor. Just submit your name and email address. If you’d like to get involved with the PSF in a volunteer capacity, please email us volunteer@prisonscholars.org.