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MHS Library | Digital Citizenship

Online verification skills

Validating identity

This is information collected collaboratively in Howard Rheingold's Crap Detection Google Doc.

WhoIs: A site that lets you see information about who owns any domain on the Internet. An international directory of free public records.

Reverse address lookup  


Web hoaxes and misinformation

The following information is taken from the article by Paul S. Piper, Librarian, Western Washington University, Better read that again: web hoaxes and misinformation.

A note on categories

Categories are not airtight and do overlap sometimes. The site, while in the counterfeit category, is certainly a malicious site; the Mankato, Minnesota, site is a spoof, while also being counterfeit.

A true counterfeit site is one that attempts to pass itself off as an authentic site much as a counterfeit $20 note attempts to enter the economy as currency. 

Parody and spoof sites are counterfeit sites that use humour to poke fun at an original site, product, or organisation. Parody sites are often political, and typically employ humour to get their message across. They often feature a spinoff of the legitimate name and often capitalise on URLs that seem legitimate. While their intention may be political, these sites are typically not malicious and their 'misinformation' is fairly obvious.

Malicious sites are sponsored by hate groups. These groups are well within their free-speech rights to host information on the net, disseminate information designed to be hurtful and discriminatory. Many of these sites are notorious for providing misinformation couched in quasi-academic discourse and subtle or dishonest misdirection about their intentions. 

Counterfeit websites disguise themselves as legitimate sites for the purpose of disseminating misinformation. They are not always attempts at humour or spoof. 

Fictitious websites are not primarily humorous in intent and not true parodies. 

Questionable sites often mix credible information into a mix of probable and fantasy. 

Product sites. While sites can offer reliable information, they typically compromise themselves by filtering out any information that could damage product sales. The sneakier commercial sites don't bother to mention the fact that they are selling anything, and an unsuspecting researcher can enter a site like this, extract information, and run with it, often without realising they are being given only a select set of data and facts. While the examples below are medical, all sites typically put their best face forward in an effort to sell you something. 

Subject specific misinformation. There are serious consequences in this area of unreputable websites. In particular, the consequences for the areas of health and business can be serious. Erroneous health information can have disastrous consequences. Bad business information can result in financial ruin. Health information can be checked at reliable public health sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Quackwatch, amongst others. 

Fake Facebook page

Can you tell that this is a fake Facebook page?

Read about it in Phil Bradley's blog.

Information Overload

Tracking internet hoaxes

The following sites are dedicated to tracking internet hoaxes and to check validity of information.

Don't Spread That Hoax  

Snopes (Rumour has it)  Emergent is a real-time rumor tracker. It's part of a research project with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University that focuses on how unverified information and rumor are reported in the media

Hoax Slayer   Site that allows users to check whether emails are hoaxes or not.

Evaluate these websites

Which of these websites are reputable and which are not? Of those which are not, specify which are counterfeit, parodies, fictitious, questionable, malicious or product sites?

Journalism - fact checking

Storyful: A tool for newsrooms - their team works to verify social media content.

HelpaReporterOut: Free subscription site that allows reporters to submit a query looking for sources.

Wayback Machine: Search engine for old website designs and screenshots.​

Africa Check: South African political/journalistic fact-checking nonprofit

How to tell if a photo has been photoshopped

Another fake Facebook page

Another fake Facebook page! Read about it here.

Related articles

Image evaluation

These websites have been collected collaboratively on Howard Rheingold's Crap Detector Google Doc.

FotoForensic: Online tool that allows one to check whether a photo has been Photoshopped or modified by checking compression levels in the photo.

Detecting Forged and Altered Photos: Detailed paper on photo forensic techniques. Ironically, there are a couple of broken images in the paper; also some good scientific references.

Image Edited: Similar to FotoForensic; allows for users to check whether a photo is an original or not.

TinEye: A reverse image search engine that allows the user to find out where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, and how to find a higher resolution image if possible.

Google Reverse Image Search : Similar to TinEye, Google Images has the option of searching by image, which allows a user to upload any image and find images that resemble it.

Imgops: Free service that offers all kinds of image validation and verification tools.  

Jeffrey’s EXIF viewer:  Helps you check Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) information of any digital photo including date/time, camera settings, and, where available, GPS location.

Learn to Verify Social Media Images: From PBS includes link to verification software

Website evaluation links

Evaluating Web Pages  (UC Berkeley Library)

Evaluating internet resources (Teacher Tap)

Evaluating websites - things to consider

The Web is a valuable information source, but for the purposes of academic research, you must select reliable sites. Information may be biased toward a particular ideology or may have a commercial purpose. Here are some hints for determining the reliability of a website and its appropriateness for your research.

Examine the URL

Web addresses (URLs) often take the form The three letters (usually) after the server name indicate the domain. Sites in the domains .edu, .gov, or .org are likely to be more reliable for research than those ending in .com.

Sometimes it is not apparent who is responsible for the website. Try shortening the URL so that it ends with the domain. This will often reveal the identify of the hosting organization.

Authorship & Authority

Ask yourself not only "who wrote this?" but "why should I care what he writes?" Look for the author's identity and also any information about his educational background, professional credentials, etc. This information can often be found under an "About Us" link.

Does the Site Cite?

Scholarly discourse is characterized by continual reference to previous scholarly discourse. Does the site say where its information comes from? Can you actually track down the primary sources?

No Site is an Island

To whom does the site link? Who links to the site? To find out who links to a website, you can either do a Google search or paste the site's URL into The site itself may look respectable, but what about its friends and neighbors?

Is the Site Older than You?

Is the information on the site current? Can you find a "last updated" statement? If references are listed, how old are the most recent ones? Are there a number of dead links?

It's All Relative

We cannot simply classify websites as "good" or "bad"—it all depends on the purpose for which it is used. The website for a group advocating the legalization of marijuana may be valuable as an example of the arguments used by proponents of that cause, but its statements about the health benefits of the herb should be taken with a grain of salt.

Source: Ithaca College Library

Subject guide created by

contact Tania Sheko