Unfortunately, the inherent strengths of social media, namely, its immediacy, interactivity, and capacity to aggregate and “put content in new contextual patterns,” also can make evaluating information derived from social media sources a tricky task (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration 2008).
Attempting to determine the authority, accuracy, and objectivity of a blog site or blogpost, wiki site, or wiki entry can prove especially challenging. When evaluating information provided by a blog or wiki, use the following questions to supplement the general questions found on the Checklist of Basic Elements:
When evaluating information from a blog:
- Who is hosting or sponsoring the blog?
- Does the author of the blog provide links or citations to sources of factual information? If so, attempt to go back to the original sources.
- Does the author’s profile provide any information regarding his or her qualifications for writing on the subject?
- Is the blog cited on other Web sites? If so, which ones?
- Is the blog cited in newspapers, television/radio newscasts, or other conventional media outlets? If so, which ones?
- Does the author maintain other blogs, Web pages, or sites?
When evaluating information from a wiki:
- Who is hosting or sponsoring the wiki?
- Who is authorized to add, modify, or delete information on the wiki?
- Are the names of the wiki’s contributors listed?
- Are links or citations to sources of factual information provided? If so, attempt to go back to the original sources.
- Does the wiki have an editor or fact-checker?
- Are there earlier versions of the wiki entries? If so, how do they differ from the current version?
Like Web users, Web authors also need to use caution when delving into the social media realm. Web authors who are interested in creating a blog or wiki on a third-party Web site also need to consider the following:
- Who owns the copyright for materials contributed/posted on the site?
- Where are the blogposts and other related information included on the site physically stored?
- Who has access to the content beyond the creator(s) of the blog or the wiki?
- How long will the material remain on the site?
- Does the site owner provide a method for blog or wiki authors to permanently delete content that they have created from the site?
- If personal information is stored on the site, what measures are in place to secure it from unauthorized users?
Finally, it is important for both users and creators of social media to carefully read the terms of service for social media sites, especially if they are planning to contribute content to them.
Social media’s interactive, collaborative, and aggregative capacity; flexibility; and immediacy make it a formidable communicative force. Given this powerful combination of elements, social media presents a host of novel challenges for Web users and authors alike. These challenges are not insurmountable; however, they may require additional expenditures of time and energy to successfully address them.