As you scroll through your newsfeed, have you ever wondered about the accuracy of each posting? How credible are your social media connections? One of the most important lessons taught in public relations and journalism is how to identify credible sources. Unfortunately, with the overload of information available in today’s society, it can be difficult to decipher whether a person is indeed a reliable and trustworthy source.
In a recent issue of Genome Biology, an international scientific journal aimed at the biological research community, genomics researcher Neil Hall published an article highlighting a new diagnostic tool he calls the Kardashian Index. The idea behind Hall’s index is this: Kim Kardashian, despite having not achieved anything consequential in science, politics or the arts, is one of the most followed people on Twitter and among the most searched-for person on Google. In the age of social media, many people have developed massive Twitter followings and high-profile blogs but have lacked any significant contributions to their field, creating figures that are seen as thought leaders and experts simply because of their notoriety.
Here are three factors to keep in mind when determining the authority of a source:
The Number of Followers: The number of followers a person has on social media can be misleading. Yes, there are some extremely credible and well-known sources who have 100k+ followers and rightfully so. But, there are also inflated profiles where users have followed 500k people in order to get 300k followers in return. Profiles like this are gaining followers for illegitimate reasons and should be avoided.
The Publication: Another aspect to consider is the publication in which the information is being published. While even the big names get information wrong on occasion, it is much more likely to find false or incorrect information on an unaccredited blog or low-traffic website. Most big name publications that are still around are here for a reason—they have established credibility over the years and have systems in place to fact check information.
Certifications & Awards: It is generally a good indicator when a source has earned respected awards or acknowledgments for their work. Earning an award does not automatically make a person or publication credible; however, having work recognized helps to distinguish credibility. It is also important to take into account any unique or sought-after accreditations a source may hold, as well as their extra-curricular activities, such as being an active member of an influential committee or board.
The Kardashian Index was designed with scientists in mind, but has ultimately brought attention to a bigger issue: social media makes it very easy for people to build a seemingly impressive persona by essentially shouting louder than others. The next time you scroll through your newsfeed, make sure you do your due diligence on the source before readily accepting the information as true.