Notes from Crash Course's Videos on Fact Checking Information You See On The Internet

Fact Checking

Notes from Crash Course’s excellent series about fact checking information you see on the internet. The series starts here.

Three Questions

  1. How is behind this information?
  2. What is the evidence for their claims?
  3. What do other sources say about the organization and its claims?

“A question wrongly put.”

Lateral Reading

All information is produced by someone, and is produced for a purpose. The lines between motives are unclear. There are always multiple motives, and they don’t always conflict.

“Who made this and why?”

We read websites like we read books. We read vertically. You are only seeing what the creator wanted you to see. It is often impossible to tell reliable information from unreliable information.

A better alternative is to leave the site and search for corroborating information. Look for conflicts of interest that are left undisclosed which is a red flag.

Newspapers can be a good start. These are now digital media companies. Sometimes they have their own point-of-view. Sometimes these are stated explicitly and/or are obvious. But that’s not necessarily always the case.

There is no magic arbiter of truth. All of these is created by humans and humans make mistakes.

“The media” doesn’t exist. It is a large and diverse industry. It is, however, possible to take these diverse points of view into account.

You should use Wikipedia. Not every article is perfect, but you should see verifiable citations.

Because no source is perfectly objective, one might conclude that no source is trustworthy. This is not true.

Deciding Whom To Trust

It is easy to be mislead. None of us have the time to be an expert in everything.

We have to trust information from outside of ourselves we have to find a way to accredit and trust experts, even though they will be wrong some of the time.

“Listen to me”bloviate””

Before we place trust in a source, we should verify the authority, and the validity of their evidence.

Investigating A Source’s Authority

Everyone has a perspective influenced by their lived experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unfairly biased. We should take their perspective into consideration when examining their arguments. They may be presenting their information in a way that’s persuasive.

“Opinion”, “Analysis” etc. mean that the work intends to be persuasive rather than informative.


Each bit of information we have about a source gives us a lens to filter out their perspective.

Using Wikipedia

When used correctly Wikipedia can be a great place to start when verifying the legitimacy of a source. It’s breadth can exceed any newspaper. It gives you the general lay of the land when exploring or researching a topic.

Wikipedia has become the internet’s largest general reference work.

Their content policies:

  1. A neutral point of view.
  2. No original research.
  3. Verifiable.

Modern Wikipedia has rigorous and robust mechanisms to keep things in check.

Wikipedia is not a one-stop shop for in-depth research. Don’t cite Wikipedia. That’s not a good look. And encyclopedia is not a source.

Citations help bring up more information from reputable sources.

Treat Wikipedia as a launch pad.

Wikipedia is another tool in your information evaluation tool kit.

You go there for general overview a topic or a stepping stone to more references, or to use as one lateral reading source among several.

And as long as your know how and when to use it appropriately, Wikipedia can be a great friend.

Evaluating Evidence

As you get older “because I said so” doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to provide evidence and that evidence should be convincing.

“What is the evidence?”

Often when the evidence does not support the claim, it is misleading or disinformation. Lack of evidence should be suspicious immediately.

The mere existence of evidence doesn’t support the claim either.

Not all evidence is cerated equal.

The evidence a source provides should come from another reputable source.

“Thousands of people never conspire to do anything secretly.”

Spurious correlation: The implied causal relationship between events that are coincidentally linked.

The quality of our evidence like the quality of our information, affects the quality of our decisions.

Evaluating Photos & Videos

Photographs feel real and authentic. Even when images aren’t altered, they are selectively framed, or have their context falsified (e.g. with a false explanation, or date).

We are used to thinking that “seeing is believing”.

Thanks to their power, images are a very common form of online evidence. But just like data or text image-based evidence can be relevant and reliable, or irrelevant and unreliable.

When you encounter a suspicious image online it is crucial to investigate who is behind it and whiter they are a reliable source. We also must verify the surrounding context and whether it supports any claims being made.

Use reverse image search on Google to track down sources. Turn to fact checking sites like Snopes and Politifact.

Videos can also be dramatically altered. It is important to know where a video came from, who created it, and whether it’s been altered before you believe what you see.

Data and infographics