Evaluating Information

How to evaluate information, from social media to scholarly articles.

Case Studies

Information, at its most basic, is data which are set in a context for relevance.
In other words, information tells us something that is understandable and has the potential to become knowledge for us when (1) we view it critically, and (2) add it to what we already know.

For example:
  •  "8,000,000" and "9%" are not information; they are bits of data.
  • However, "The population of New York City in 2000 was reported to top 8,000,000 persons, a growth of 9% since 1990" is indeed information.
  • Adding that information to other information and data about the funding and expansion of public healthcare services in New York City would help city officials to develop knowledge of the stresses related to delivering healthcare services.  

INFORMATION (noun): "Knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event; that of which one is apprised or told; intelligence, news." (Oxford English Dictionary, 2022)

   Information should always be accurate, and be either free of bias or making note of its own bias. To have value, information also needs to be useful for a given purpose.


Propaganda is a commonly misused term.

Because of its historical use, many people associate propaganda with inflammatory speech or writing that has no basis in fact. In reality, propaganda may easily be based in fact, but facts represented in such a way as to provoke a desired response.

"Propaganda" is defined as the "the systematic dissemination of information, especially in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political cause or point of view." (Oxford English Dictionary online)

Political campaign speeches and party political statements are often a form of propaganda. They fit this definition when they present the opposing point of view in an unfavorable light.

  • "President Bush has named a one-sided, misguided commission that has only one objective: to privatize Social Security. In so doing, he is ultimately risking the future of the program on which millions of Americans rely for retirement security, widow benefits, and disability payments. In fact, the only security about which this commission seems concerned is the security of the financial industries and special interests who stand to make millions if Social Security is privatized."
    ---From a press release from the Democratic National Committee (May 3, 2001)

  •  "'The American people would be better served if the misguided leadership of the Democratic Party were to lower the destructive rhetoric that drives people apart and engage more constructively in the process,' said Ann Wagner, Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee."
    --- From a press release from the Republican National Committee (April 26, 2001)

Identify the terms used to color the information reported in each press release above. Read the releases again, deleting those terms. How do the statements sound different?
  • When you read documents or listen to audio or video files that characterize opinions or positions in terms of their integrity or moral content, you may well be in the presence of propaganda.
  • Remember, the purpose of propaganda is to instill a particular attitude: to encourage you to think a particular way.
  • Think for yourself: base your opinion on the facts, not the hype.
Misinformation is "the action of misinforming someone, or the condition of being misinformed," or, incorrect information.


  • differs from propaganda in that it always refers to something which is not true
  • differs from disinformation in that it is "intention neutral"; that is, misinformation is not deliberate, just wrong or mistaken

One of the most popular forms of misinformation on the Internet is the passing along of "urban legends." Urban legends are fabricated or untrue stories that are passed along by sincere people who believe them, and then "inform" others.

Misinformation is perhaps the most difficult information lookalike to diagnose. Why? What strategies could you develop to determine whether what you are reading constitutes information or misinformation?

Everyone makes mistakes, but always check the validity of everything you read before you share it.

Disinformation is the dissemination of deliberately false information, especially when supplied by a government or its agent to a foreign power; or, on the media with the intention of influencing policies of those who receive it.

One of the most notorious uses of disinformation was the dissemination of anti-Semitic speeches and writing by the Nazi party in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, disinformation didn't end with World War II. In fact, the Internet is an excellent vehicle for disinformation.

One good starting point in determining whether or not a document may constitute disinformation is to find out who owns the document or domain and then find out what that individual or group's mission or beliefs are.

  • Ask yourself what the document owner has to gain by circulating the document
  • Always validate or confirm information on individuals, institutions or groups, and countries that you find on the Internet
  • If you don't know who wrote what you read or why they wrote it, you don't know if it's trustworthy