Determining Authority in a World of Fake News

“Fake news” is a term we have all become familiar with. It also means that it is more important than ever to be aware of a source’s authority. Today, we will review what to look for and questions you should ask when evaluating the authority of a website.

What’s the Deal with Authority?

Ideally, we all want accurate information from sources and people that we find credible and that have authority. So we need to be mindful of where our information comes from.

Figuring out who is behind the information you have found during your research is also known as evaluating the authority of a source. When you evaluate the authority of a website, you are trying to figure out if the author or sponsor behind the content you are reading can be trusted to provide accurate information.

Don’t forget: anyone can publish information on the Internet, so you need to be careful and make sure that the source was written by an expert, a scholar, or a journalist before using it in research.

In case you forget what the word “authority” means, remember it has the word “author” in it. Evaluating the authority of a source involves researching information about the author.

The Author

A simple but important question you should ask is: Who is the author?

This is the first step to evaluating authority! The first thing you need to figure out is who the author actually is. Is an author listed at all? If not, you should be suspicious. Be aware that sometime the author is a person, sometimes it is an organization or company.

Contact Information

Take a look around. Can you find contact information or information about the person or organization who created the source?

See if you can find an email address or biography of the author or authors. If the author’s contact information is listed, it probably means that she or he is willing to take responsibility for what they have posted online. If there is no contact information for the author (or company), that may be a sign that they are not willing to take responsibility and as a result are suspicious and less authoritative.

Online Presence

See what else you can find. Do they have other active online accounts or websites?

Try to find more information about the author through a search engine. Look for:

  • A detailed personal or professional website
  • Other articles written by the author on credible websites
  • Does the author have a Twitter account, Instagram account, or Linkedin profile?

Education & Experience

While you are looking for an author’s online presence, now is a good opportunity to see if you can find information about the education and expertise of the author.

  • Did the author study the subject he or she is writing about?
  • Is the author professionally trained in journalism or reporting?
  • Can you find a résumé or curriculum vitae that lists his or her accomplishments?

Newspaper & Magazine Authority

If you are evaluating newspapers or magazines, ask yourself this:

  • Is the journalist credible?
  • Does the news source publishing the article have a good reputation?

With news publications, journalists are not always experts on certain subjects. However, they can still provide credible, accurate and trustworthy information. You should always evaluate the credentials and career of a journalist, and take a close look at the news source that is publishing the information.

Anything Else?

Considering authority is an important step to making sure information you read is credible. Along with authority, don’t forget to also evaluate the purpose, accuracy, relevance, and currency of the information you’re reviewing. Together, these can help you make educated decisions about what is and is not credible information.


Creating a bibliography (in MLA format or otherwise) is one way to help make sure that you keep your own writing credible. Cite This For Me can hep you do so in MLA, APA format, and many other citation styles. Click on our icon at the top of the page to start!