Source criticism – or source confidence?
Source criticism and source confidence are two concepts and skills that complement each other. However, they work on slightly different levels.
Source criticism is used on individual sources, where you critically evaluate a particular source or statement. On the other hand, source confidence is more comprehensive and looks at the system behind the information. Basically, source confidence is based on the understanding of different processes in society, for example, how journalists work or how good research is produced. If you know how society works, it will be easier for you to understand the system in which the information is produced. Then it will be easier for you to decide whether an organization is worthy of your source confidence or not.
Being able to feel source confidence can make it easier to navigate in a world where it can seem quite complicated to live. A world where information is produced at an incredibly high speed and is available everywhere, at all times. Then it is not possible to critically evaluate every little statement. The idea of source confidence, to be able to have reasonable trust that what you read in certain sources is likely to be true, might then feel like a relief.
The basics of source confidence
The basic premise of source confidence is that we must be able to trust each other. You must be able to trust other individuals, but you also have to be able to trust the different functions of society. Sweden is a country that ranks high on the scale for trust in neighbours and authorities, but also in the daily press. Swedish citizens express that they largely trust information from Swedish authorities and the Swedish media. However, this can be undermined by groups that constantly distrust and discredit reliable media and see authorities as something unreliable. By questioning trust in society, the basic premise falls and you become suspicious and sceptical of everything you read, and that makes it difficult to trust anything at all.
Transparency is a central key to trust. If source confidence is going to work out, the publishers need to be transparent with their work behind the scenes. For example, if false information is published, a correction must be made. Another aspect that affects source confidence is whether the sources are objective and impartial. If not, the sources need to be clear that they have a bias in a certain direction.
The role of general knowledge for source confidence
As described above it becomes easier with source confidence the more familiar you are with how society works, but it also becomes easier if you have a bit of general knowledge. Having a basic overview of how things work a little in general, but perhaps specifically regarding how knowledge and news are created and spread, gives you the benefit of feeling more secure in your source confidence.
If you have doubts about a source and find it difficult to evaluate, a library is a good place to visit. The library can help you evaluate the source and also gives you a chance to develop your general knowledge further through the library's collections of books and journals.
In a series of posts, the library goes through some key parts of the concept of source criticism and provides tips on how you can review and evaluate information to assess whether it is relevant and credible.
Part 1 of the series on ource criticism: Check the source
Part 2 of the series on source criticism: Intentionally misleading sources
Part 3 of the series on source criticism: Who decides what you see?