Topics covering the best and worst of the web
By Malcolm Armsteen
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It is commonplace, here, for posters to link or embed Tweets, or to cut and paste quotes from articles, blogs and other social media. Some posters are more enthusiastic than others, and often their enthusiasm outweighs their critical faculties.

When operating as a teacher I used to stress the need for judgements to be based on reliable or trustworthy sources. If a source failed the test of the ABC it was relegated to hearsay, and its use to justify a point of view or support an argument was worthless.

The ABC came from the BBC's materials in KS3 history.

A - is for Author and Authenticity. Who wrote this? Do they have convincing subject knowledge? Are they a participant? Is it authentic or fabricated - note that the presumption is that a source is not authentic unless it can be reasonably shown to be so. We are seeking reliable information upon which to base sound judgements, so anything suspect must be discarded.

B - Bias. Is the source biased, as seen in the use of pejorative language, stereotypes and obvious partisanship? This may not destroy the credibility of the source (for example if we are reading a politician's autobiography) but it may damage it. Dates and events may be reliably recounted, but reactions to them may not. Has the author written on this topic before? Are they consistently supporting one position against another? Do they clearly take sides? If they do then the source is only useful as evidence when considering their position, not the overall picture.

C - Comparison. Does the source agree with other, apparently reliable, sources? Look for outliers and extremes.

If the source meets all these tests it may (note, may) be used to form an argument or judgement.

The BBC seems to have dropped this from the history materials, but has included a form of it in the IT section:

Quoted at length (I've left out the examples, you can look them up if you want):
Bias and reliability

The internet contains a wealth of information. This information can be used to learn about new things or to verify facts.

However, much of the information on the internet is either biased in some way or incorrect.

Information that is biased or incorrect loses its value. When information has no value, it is of no use to us. We need to be able to distinguish between information that is valuable (of use to us) and that which is not.
What is bias?

Biased information is information that is written from a particular perspective or point of view.

When we write, we often – either purposefully or accidentally – introduce bias. Information that contains bias may be:

personal opinion
a statement that has no factual basis
prejudiced in favour of or against a person, product, situation or idea
What is reliability?

Incorrect information is information that is wrong, out of date or inaccurate.

Websites may contain information that is incorrect for any of these reasons:

wrong – the facts stated are incorrect
out of date – the facts may have been correct when the website was produced, but are no longer correct
inaccurate – the facts may be largely correct, but may contain some errors

When information is correct, it is ‘reliable’. Reliable information has value. The less reliable the information, the less valuable it is.
Recognising bias and unreliability
Why is it important to watch for bias?

Biased information also loses its value. Information of little value may:

mislead us
misinform us
cause us to make an incorrect deduction
cause us to make a poor decision
Factors to consider

Biased information is influenced by a point of view. When analysing information for bias, there are certain factors to look for:

Source – who has produced the information? Information from an authoritative, well-known organisation or person is likely to have value. Information from wikis and blogs may be less valuable because they are not authoritative – anyone can update a wiki or write a blog. As such, they may contain bias or inaccuracies. Remember, though, that a company may overstate claims about their products or services, whilst understating those of their competitors.
Opinion or fact – does the website state facts or opinions? Opinions are points of view, not facts. Whilst opinions should be considered and may be interesting, as information they have less value than facts.
Statements without facts – does the website contain statements that cannot be backed up by facts? Such statements are opinions, and have little value.
Date of publication – when was the website was last updated? Websites that have not been updated for a long time may no longer be accurate.
I hope this helps. I think we should always call out Tweets and quotes that are given without context and a judgement on reliability. Otherwise we are simple recycling bad air.
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