How to verify an online source

I was just checking a website purported to have helpful information about health care law.  The website didn’t list anything about the staff or owner in its “About” section.  When I checked who had registered the site I found a name, phone number and a name of a law firm.  The phone number didn’t work I went to the firm’s website but didn’t see the registrant’s name or a similar phone number.

Now the site might be valid, but I’m not ready to trust it.

Here’s 5  steps to verify who is behind a website:

  1. Check what it says about itself on the website. A quality website will put that information or link on its first page or will have a “Contact Us” button with contact information.
  2. Find related sites, those that link to or from the website in question or have some relationship. Use this formula in a search engine:  Related:xxxxx.yyy  (with xxxxx.yyy being the web address without the www), for example:
  3. If you have access to a newspaper database through a local library, check if any other reporter has mentioned the website in an article and what s/he says
  4. Find out who registered the site at Network Solutions WHOIS (or other similar sites)  For example if you check out at Network Solutions you’ll find my name and contact information. At WhoisMind you’ll find a listing for Syracuse University, my employer.
  5. Use your journalistic skills to evaluate the site using the criteria from librarians Jan Alexander and  Marsha Ann Tate:
  • Authority: who is behind this site and is that entity legitimate
  • Accuracy: does it list sources and appears free of grammatical and spelling errors
  • Objectivity: does it appear to have a bias and is advertising clearly separate from the other content
  • Currency: is it up to date with sources clearly listed
  • Coverage: does it appear to be comprehensive or if affiliated with a print publication does it have all the material online 
Let ReadyReporter know other tips you have for checking out the legitimacy of web sites. 
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