Research skills in the era of fake news

Whether you’re a student, in the workplace, or living your daily life – we all live in a sea of information – and it’s important to know how to navigate.

With the prevalence of the internet, information has never been more widely available and accessible. It goes without saying there are many positives to this, and moving forward digital technologies and the internet will continue to play an important role in our work, study and personal lives.

This is especially important in the current epoch of dominant social media, viral marketing and fake news; it is becoming harder not only to track down the information you need, but also to separate fact from fiction.

Because there is so much information out there, the onus is often on us as individuals to determine what information is useful and can be trusted, and which information we need to be sceptical about. However, not all sources are created equal, so we’ve put together this concise guide to set you on the right track when sourcing accurate information for work, study and your personal life.

News sources

News is everywhere, accessible in online and print forms, and perhaps the most important thing to be aware of is that many newspapers – even news organisations with long histories – often have vested interests.

In Australia the most trustworthy news sources we have are governmental and independent, and include:

  • Independent media such as The Guardian Australia is a good place to start. By not relying on commercial ownership, The Guardian is a not-for-profit media organisation unbiased by commercial or governmental interests, and a trustworthy source of local and international news. However, it is worth remembering that The Guardian has a well-documented left-centre bias.
  • Public broadcasters, free from vested commercial interests, are generally more trustworthy than their privatised counterparts. In Australia the Australian Broadcasting Service (ABC) strives for objectivity with an organisational charter that emphasises political neutrality and serving as an inclusive voice for the Australian public.
  • The Conversation is an independent news organisation that sources and authenticates its information from the academic and research community, which it delivers directly to the public.

Academic sources

If you are studying on-campus or online, academic sources should be your first port of call. Your university library is a great starting point.

University libraries have invested a great deal of effort into cultivating sophisticated e-services, so if you’re studying online, you should have online access to a wide range of academic e-resources.

Many of these will be published and peer-reviewed articles in e-journals. The academic peer review process is a rigorous one in Australia and most countries abroad. This ensures information is up-to-date at the time of publication, and a minimum number of equivalently qualified expert academics have approved the research and work that has gone into a peer-reviewed article.

Universities, whether on-campus or online, will also grant students access to a wide selection of published books – both in e-form and in print. It’s well worth taking advantage of the trustworthy resources your university library offers, and even later on as an alumni.

Retaining a healthy sense of scepticism

No matter what news or research source you consult, it’s important to retain a healthy amount of scepticism, and consciously consider the possible vested interests at play. Even sources that strive for objectivity may reflect the subconscious biases of their writers.

In general, social media sources can be problematic as it can be difficult to track a social media post to its source, and major social media companies have demonstrated a tendency to prioritise paid messaging and commercial interests over a commitment to truth.

If you are a current student and need any help at all seeking authenticated research materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of your Student Advisers on 1300 110 918.

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