When do we trust an information source?

08.01.2010 | Christian Kreutz

Information research is performed in many different ways throughout the Internet. Once an information is found, the assessment of its relevance and trustiness happens through objective criteria and on the premise of subjective factors. What are such criteria and factors?  And how are they changing in a growing social connected net?

Photo by Scarygami @Flickr

A typical situation: You sit with friends together and discuss; a fact is cited, but you do not believe it and want to prove it is wrong, so you quickly check it  in the Internet. We increasingly rely on our digital backbone, which now it is even ubiquitous available through mobile phones. The net becomes our extended memory – not in any case it is easy to find an answer quickly, but is getting easier thanks to sources such as Wikipedia.

But how do we trust these sources? Sources can have very different approaches, trusted behind the information they offer:

But how do we decide in our daily information research source whether it is trusted or untrusted? There are many nuances between these two poles and various personal criteria on how to assess a source. I am curious to know what is desicive for you.  Here is a list of questions, which might apply or not:

Source Criteria:

  • Who is behind the source?
  • Is it a well-known institution or person?
  • Where does it originally come from?
  • Does it indicate an author?
  • Is the article old or up-to-date?
  • Does it have comments? How many comments?
  • Has the website a commercial intention or is the information service a common good?
  • Is the article personally or objectively written?
  • Does it have many or none citation to other sources?
  • How well written is the article?
  • How open is the person behind a presented page? For example, does the author have a biography or a Twitter account?

Network factor:

  • Who has recommended the source? Is it a friend, colleague or peer?
  • Is it a link from  a well-known or unknown blog post to the source?
  • Does the source have many readers/subscribers?
  • Is it often cited? Can it be checked for example through a Twitter search or Technorati rank, in case of a blog.


  • Is the website professionally designed?
  • Do you like the design? Would you trust an information source with an appalling design?
  • Does it focus on content or rather advertisement?
  • Can you navigate easily or are there obstacles to find your information?
  • Is it a rather closed site or does it link to a website?

These are only some examples showing how tricky it is to evaluate a source and set the needed range of skills to assess an information from different angles. How can these skills be learnt? A topic for another post.