Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Anyone can put any information on the Internet. Sometimes information looks more credible at first glance than it does on closer inspection. Whenever using information from the Internet in your investigations, ask, “Is this source credible?" There are a number of ways to assess a source’s credibility, including asking the following questions:

Who runs the site?

Note: If you cannot tell what group or individual developed the site, think twice before using the source.

Take a look at the site’s homepage. Is there an “About” section for the site? If not, are there tabs pointing to information on the site’s “Mission”, “Background” or “Staff Biographies”? If these pages exist, they can sometimes reveal the author, owner or funder of the website, as well as provide insight into potential biases the source might have. Answer the following questions:

  • Who owns and/or funds the media outlet? Is it a reputable group or organization? Is it a special interest group, such as a government or commercial entity? Is this information clearly stated on the website?
  • Does it seem as if the personal or political views of the owner/funder may have influenced the site content?
  • What type of news does this outlet usually report on?
  • What is this news source known for? Google the website, and see what comes up. While you should not take Internet discussions as fact, any comments about the news source could inform your credibility assessment.
  • Is it a wiki? A wiki is a website where any user can modify the information, and there is no way to verify authorship. Examples: Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and Wikiquotes.

Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the last three letters of a URL – its domain – to identify what type of website you are on. For example, .gov (government), .edu (educational), .com (commercial), .org (organization) or .net (network).