With all the hullabaloo about “fake news,” it’s more important than ever for publishers of online content to ensure that they have their facts straight. Not only can publishing falsehoods cause confusion amongst your readers, but it can also cause you to develop a bad reputation. The last thing any business needs is to be known for being less than honest on their website.
Thus, it is important that before you hit the publish button, you know that any data or statements you make are, indeed, true. This is where the importance of fact-checking and source-verification comes into play. It goes without saying that anything you publish concerning your products or services should be honest and transparent – but it’s equally important that data and research you’re presenting is honest.
Here’s how to go about fact-checking your content before posting it to the Internet.
Verify Your Data – Can You Replicate It?
In science, experiments need to be replicated by others before scientists are comfortable with believing that the information they have gathered is reliable. This is why you’ll often see multiple studies showing correlations before news comes out that the scientific community generally accepts something shown by these studies as fact.
Likewise, when you gather data, you should be sure that the data is reliable. Is the data consistent, or is it an outlier? By ensuring that data is consistent and reliable, you can help build your reputation as a company that doesn’t make claims that it can’t back up.
Back Up Your Claims
Are you saying that you’re the only company that makes purple cogs? You’d better do the research to back up that claim. Make sure that any claim you make in your content – whether it’s about your own products and services or general research – is backed up by research. There are two parts of fact checking that accompany backing up your claims: knowing your sources and being sure that your references are correct.
Know Your Sources
Let’s face it, not all sources of information are created equally. For example, Wikipedia and blogs are not peer-reviewed sources. Thus, many will make claims on these sites without having the back-up research and primary sources. Be sure to check your sources’ claims – are they basing their statements on research? Is it published in a peer review journal? Here’s a handy guide by Aaron Bowen at Wichita State University to help you identify Internet sources that may not be the most reliable.
Double Check Your References
Are you sure you know who said that quote you’re throwing out there? Did you find the information you’re sharing on website A or B? Was it in a book by X or a magazine article by Y? Be clear about where the information you’re sharing that didn’t come from your own research and development department came from – and give credit accordingly.
Trace Research to its Original Source
Especially important when you are citing Internet sources of information, be sure you track statements down to find their original sources. Did you just read an article about how substance Z is terrible for you? Who did the research? Where was the study published? Have you looked at the original paper? Was it accurately represented in the source you’re drawing from?
Check with Internet Fact-Checkers
As a shortcut to doing your own research (and be sure you do follow up on sites mentioned), you can look at Internet fact-checkers. Snopes is a good place for checking out to see whether those viral posts on Facebook and Twitter are indeed factual. You will want to look at factcheck.org and FactChecker for political, current event, scientific, and other claims you may come across.
When You’ve Made a Mistake, Apologize and Correct It
If it is pointed out that you’ve made a mistake, and you have, indeed, made said mistake, apologize quickly and correct the error. The last thing you want to do is ignore incorrect information and develop a reputation for disseminating inaccurate information to your readers.
Whenever a claim seems too good to be true, too bad to be true, or off in some way, check it. Whenever you make a claim, check it. You’ll be glad you did. By insuring that your content is accurate and reliable, you can help to mitigate the problems of passing on hoaxes, fake news, and unreliable information. You can also avoid the gaffe of making untrue claims about your products and services and those products and services of your competitors.
Ronda Bowen – Content Creator
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