Can the keywords you use in a search help you figure out whether a rumor or claim is legit?

Data Literacy Uncertainty and Misinformation

A: Yes! Being strategic about your search terms can help you more effectively identify credible, fact-checked information and avoid just bringing up a bunch of websites promoting the rumor or false claim.

TL; DR: MediaWise recommends keywords include specific names or places, target the specific topic or claim, and help focus the results on credible sources.

We have all heard a rumor or claim and tried to search the internet to figure out if it was true. Unfortunately, if something is a rumor, searching for information about it can bring up a bunch of websites that are serving to spread the rumor and it can be hard to find those that help to clear up if that rumor or claim is actually true. 😣 Doh!

Luckily, MediaWise, an organization that aims to help people be more critical consumers of online information, offers some super helpful search term tips that can help people distinguish credible information from mis- and disinformation. 🥳 Yeah!

They recommend that when you are doing web search to figure out if a claim is credible, you do include:

✔️At least 4 keywords in your search
✔️Specific names or places relevant to the claim
✔️Keywords that focus on the topic of the claim
✔️Additional terms that can assure results include credible sources (i.e., the word “fact-check”)

They offer a great example of putting these tips into practice for a claim you may have heard a lot a couple weeks ago…”Drug dealers are lacing candy with drugs and targeting kids on Halloween!” Note: you may recall similar rumors from our youth surrounding Halloween trick-or-treating like needing to watch out for people putting razor blades in apples! BTW, who was handing out apples on Halloween?

The MediaWise example (with videos and handouts) walks through coming up with effective search terms, sifting through the results to identify the most credible sources of information, and thinking critically about why such rumors are prone to going viral in the first place…HINT: kids + potential danger=high emotion and panic. They also emphasize the importance of pausing before we share information that evokes this kind of response. While the lesson is tailored towards kids and educators, the tips are relevant for everyone.

Here’s to smarter searching!

Check out the lesson

More on MediaWise

Check-out all the past posts from TNG on dealing with uncertainty and misinformation.

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