News literacy is fundamental to what we believe here at Newsy, part of the focus of Media Literacy Week is learning ways to identify false information.
One company has made that easier by creating a tool that rates certain websites on its trustworthiness as an accredited source.
Sarah Brandt, vice president of NewsGuard, talks to Newsy to explain how the tool works.
Dave Briggs: So, how does this technology work?
Sarah Brandt: Yeah, thanks for having me. So, what we do at NewsGuard is, we rate the reliability of thousands of news sources using basic journalistic criteria, and we actually employ humans to do these ratings, not AI or other technology.
We have a team of trained journalists who rate thousands of news websites using nine criteria, and then to back up and explain how a website was rated, we produce what we call "nutrition labels for news."
So, these are detailed reviews describing who's behind a news source, and is it a source you can generally trust? We make these tools available through a browser extension which you can install on Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Edge, and when you install the extension you can get access to our ratings of news sources directly in your search results, social media feeds or elsewhere.
So, you can go to a website and see is this a source I can generally trust or is it a source that might be spreading misinformation?
Briggs: Okay, so walk us through that process for our viewers and how do they know that something is not trusted?
Brandt: So, when we read a site on our nine criteria, each criteria has a point score, and then based on how the site fairs on those nine criteria, it gets a score of 100.
If you score 60 points or higher, you get a green rating indicating it's a generally reliable source.
Now, if you score below 60, you get a red rating indicating it's a generally unreliable source.
So, when you see NewsGuard's ratings integrate with your feeds, your search results, and so on, you'll instantly see a red or a green icon show up next to a source that will call attention to the fact that this might be a credible or unreliable source, and then you can actually click on that icon and see the full nutrition label where you can understand who's behind the source, and how did NewsGuard read it.
Briggs: Do you have any results? And do you have any data that shows just how fast those untrusted sources are spreading versus those that are trusted?
Brandt: So, NewsGuard, the extension, is used by many public libraries and schools. Actually, just this week, we announced a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, one of the biggest teachers unions, and they're making the extension available to all 1.7 million members and all of their students so that they can start using this extension.
We've already had teachers and librarians use this tool and they report really pretty amazing results.
So, we had one teacher in Arizona who told us he had been teaching news literacy for years, and research projects for years, and in the past, students would turn in papers with pretty unreliable sources and once he started to introduce NewsGuard as a tool that showed students how they should go about evaluating sources, he said the sources that his students cited improved dramatically and not a single student cited an unreliable source in their research.
As for your other question about the spread of misinformation, we see a shocking amount of misinformation spreading even before COVID-19.
We were surprised to realize that health misinformation is actually the biggest category of misinformation we were seeing online in terms of which sources of misinformation are getting the most online engagement, and as you can imagine, COVID-19 and the rollout of vaccines has only furthered that spread of misinformation on all sorts of health topics.