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Extensive interest in mass experiment on source criticism  

To review how credible young people’s digital news flows are, researchers have invited young people to serve as research assistants where they judge their news flows themselves.

Right now, nearly 12,000 young people are involved in the News Evaluator, a research project on source criticism in digital media. Source criticism in social media is an important democracy issue since false news is spread on social media and research shows that source criticism in social media requires its own approach.

The News Evaluator research project is being carried out as a part of the Researcher Friday in September 2017 for middle and high school students. Nearly 12,000 young people are participating in the News Evaluator right now. The researchers behind the News Evaluator had hoped for 3,000-5,000 students.

“It’s really fun that so many are involved. More results are no problem for us. We have a database that can handle it and it means that we will get a broader base for the research, so it’s only positive,” says Thomas Nygren, Senior Lecturer in didactics and Docent in history with an educational sciences specialization at the Department of Education at Uppsala University.

Thomas Nygren is one of the researchers behind the News Evaluator 2017 research project. In the project, young people review news in their news flows based on set criteria and report the news and their conclusions to the researchers. The criteria are based on new research on how news can be reviewed being critical of the source.

“We want to examine how credible young people’s digital news flows are and have therefore invited young people to serve as research assistants where they themselves assess their news flows and at the same time, we of course hope that the young people who participate learn to review news being critical of the source,” says Thomas Nygren.

Thomas Nygren is a Senior Lecturer in didactics and history with an educational sciences specialization. Photo: Anders Berndt

Source criticism differs between situations

Research has shown that critical thinking differs between different subjects and how and where the information is published. To critically review digital news, a high level of education and a generally critical attitude are not enough. For example, researchers tested letting experienced researchers in history source critically examine digital news flows.

Historians work with source criticism daily to evaluate various sources they have in their research. But it turned out that the historians in the study were not much better than others at reviewing news in digital news flows. Among other things, they stayed on the news website they ended up on instead of searching around on the Internet for other sources.

The researchers instead examined how news editors in the journalism media work and it turned out that these professionals were experts at critically reviewing digital news flows. They had a different approach. For example, they immediately began looking for the same news in other channels.

Source criticism for digital news

“Everyone who wants to reach out with false news knows how to make a good website that’s not revealed by the source critical checklists that exist. So this is why you have to learn a different way of source critically examining digital news.”

Besides source critically reviewing digital news, Thomas Nygren emphasizes the importance of broad subject knowledge among the students. To reveal false news, source critical criteria are not enough. One also has to have knowledge of various phenomena in society to be able to assess the texts and images one is exposed to.

Can you see any tendencies in the materials?

“We will present some clear tendencies in the material on 29 September on the Researcher Friday, such as which channels the young people deem to be the most and least credible.”

Can you already say anything now?

“So far, the impression is that the students have many good and wise rationales regarding source criticism and the assessment of different news. There is quite a bit of reflection among the students. It will be very exciting to see where it ultimately ends up.”

The researchers plan to publish a popular science research report in March 2018 and preliminary results will also be presented in the TV4 morning news programme on 4 October. But everyone can follow the research project in real time since the assessments the young people send in are shown on the project’s website, most often with links directly to the underlying news.


Student comments


Brothers pointed out for the murder of Kevin: “Value myself more now”

Credibility: 9 out of 10

“Because it’s an interview with the people it’s about. A Swedish national public service TV documentary was also done about the event.”


Youths chased away wolf from school yard

Credibility: 8 out of 10

“There is little evidence that indicates the news is really true, but we find it relatively credible as the sources that shared the news are credible. The county administrative board is a government website and we therefore rely on their information being true.”


Rating The Real Rich Wives Of Russian Officials

Credibility: 5 out of 10

“The website is dependent on financing from the American government, which might make it less objective. The article uses evidence, but it’s unclear where it comes from anyway. Anyway, there are other websites on the Internet that have similar information. This makes the source more credible in the context.”


New bluff message spreading – no Fabrizio will hack your Facebook

Credibility: 6 out of 10

“Since the news source was the Swedish national public service TV channel and they are an independent news source, we felt it was pretty credible, but at the same time they didn’t have much evidence.”



Vetenskap & Allmänhet is an association for dialogue between researchers and the rest of the world. Members include various organizations, universities and private individuals. 

Researcher Friday is a meeting place between the public and researchers established by the European Commission, which is held on the last Friday in September every year.

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11 September 2017