Source criticism

Each day, we are faced with information from different sources. Sometimes it can be difficult to know if we can trust what we are reading and listening to. Source criticism will help you to determine what is credible and how you can evaluate what you are reading, seeing and hearing.

Source criticism is important in a democratic society

Source criticism is an important part of a country’s psychological defence against malign information influence from antagonistic foreign powers. When we are critical of sources, we evaluate information rather than automatically accepting it as true. This helps to protect Sweden and Swedish interests. The harder it is to fool you, the stronger our open, democratic society will be.

Who is saying what, and why?

Being critical of sources means being aware that some sources weigh heavier than others and that messages are sent out with a purpose. For example, it may be other countries intent on harming Swedish interests by influencing you. One common method involves creating stories, or narratives, which can be completely false or only partly true, but which are skewed and taken out of context in order to mislead, polarise and divide. One question you can always start by asking yourself is: Who is saying what, and why?

Who is behind the information?

  • Can you find the original source?
  • Is it a government agency, organisation, company, private individual or influencer?
  • Is it somebody proficient in the subject?
  • Is it possible to see who is behind the information?

How does the source appear?

  • Are there any contact details?
  • If digital, does the source have links that work?
  • Does it have credible source references?
  • Does it have a last-reviewed date if the source is online?
  • Is the source reliable and has it previously provided verified information?

What is the point of the information?

  • To inform about something? To fool people?
  • To spread an opinion about something or someone?
  • To sell something? To entertain?

Who benefits from you spreading the information?

  • Is there anyone with an interest in putting a spin on the information?

Does the information reinforce your opinion?

  • In that case, it is good to search for more information, more perspectives and challenge your own view.

How old is the information?

  • Is it still relevant and up-to-date? Is there any new, updated information or has the information been called into question?

How did you get the information?

  • Is the source reliable? Has it provided verified information before?

Can you get information from other places?

  • Information from only one source must be treated with great caution.
  • Have you compared the source with what you already know?
  • Have you compared the source with other sources?

Does the information seem improbable or unreasonable?

  • If so, you should be particularly critical and scrutinise it carefully.
Theme source criticism Man with magnifying glass.

When emotions get in the way of facts

It is important to pay particular attention to information, images or other material that you find upsetting or frightening, or that evoke strong emotions. Antagonistic foreign powers frequently play on your emotions to influence you. It is easy to get carried away by emotion rather than reason, and to interpret opinions as facts. By being critical of sources, you avoid becoming part of the lie while ensuring that others will not be influenced. That way, you help to protect our democracy.

Confirmation bias – challenge your own perception

We humans have a tendency to look for confirmation of what we already believe, which is usually known as confirmation bias. Thanks to the vast amount of information disseminated online today, such confirmation has never been easier to find.

We often want to confirm our own worldview, and because of this we constantly overvalue confirmatory information. If we have a firm view and are exposed to information supporting that view, then we often buy it straight off. When the information instead conflicts with our view, we dismiss or question it and look for faults. Confirmation bias is often stronger when it comes to current topics that stir up strong emotions in us.

How does source criticism affect our democracy?

The decline of democracy has been a global trend for many years, which risks adding to security threats and conflicts on a number of continents. Democracy is strong in Sweden and ranks in the top five in the annual surveys conducted by various institutes. Yet, we too need to be vigilant about the threats to democracy and the problems we face. This may include a lack of willingness or opportunity to participate, weak acceptance of fundamental democratic norms and values, a lack of trust in public institutions or threats and hatred against journalists, researchers and representatives of authorities.

Democracies can be exploited

Our open democratic society is our strength. It makes it easier for us to divulge mismanagement, corruption and other irregularities. However, it can also be a weakness that others want to exploit. Democracies are more vulnerable to disinformation, misleading information and propaganda from antagonistic foreign powers. When anyone can say (almost) anything thanks to our freedom of expression, many voices speak out. Therefore, each of us needs to be critical of where the voices and messages we receive come from.