Evaluating Social Media in InfoLit classes

July 15, 2014

Courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham via Creative Commons

I just read this article from College & Research Libraries (July 2014) titled Undergraduates’ Use of Social Media as Information Sources.  The article authors have researched how students use social media for information, and also which social media tools are most used.  The table below shows the percent of users for each tool.

Table 1
Different Social Media Platforms Used as Information Sources (N = 833)
Rank Platform of Social Media Percent of Users
1 Wikipedia 98.6%
2 Social Networking Sites (for example, Facebook) 95.7%
3 User Reviews (such as reviews in Amazon.com) 72.1%
4 Video Sharing Sites (like YouTube) 69.5%
5 Social Q&A Sites (for instance, Yahoo!Answers) 49.8%
6 Blogs 32%
7 Microblogs (example: Twitter) 25%

—–From the above article, p.447

Although these tools were used for similar purposes, some were used largely for one purpose, such as finding background information (Wikipedia) or news information (Microblogs/Twitter). Table 2 (modified) has the top reasons each social media tool was used.

Table 2
Main Reasons for Using Social Media as Information Sources (scale of 1-4 with 4 being “often”)
Top choices, taken from the original table

Wikipedia
To get background/introductory information (3.8)

Social Networking Sites
To keep in touch with others (4)

User Reviews
To obtain others’ opinions/comments (3.86)

Video Sharing sites
To obtain recreational information (3.3)

Social Q&A
To find solutions to a problem or how-to instructions (3.5)

Blogs
To obtain others’ opinions/comments (3.43)

Microblogs
To get updates/news (3.67)

—–Ibid, p. 448

There is a call to action to begin teaching evaluation techniques in classes where website evaluation is taught, and now is the perfect time to consider doing so.

To that end, the article identifies ways in which students tend to evaluate the value of the social media item, such as the author’s credentials, other’s opinions (reviews), length, quality, references, and style.

To get an idea of how this can look for your library, Johns Hopkins has a great LibGuide that contains a section on Evaluating Social Media. Here’s information from their Accuracy Checklist:

  • Location of the source – are they in the place they are tweeting or posting about?
  • Network – who is in their network and who follows them? Do I know this account?
  • Content – Can the information be corroborated from other sources?
  • Contextual updates – Do they usually post or tweet on this topic? If so, what did past or updated posts say? Do they fill in more details?
  • Age – What is the age of the account in question? Be wary of recently created accounts.
  • Reliability – Is the source of information reliable?

—–From Evaluating Information Found on the Internet, Evaluating Social Media tab, Johns Hopkins

I plan to begin introducing this information into my class discussions on evaluating resources. Although we inherently do some of this already, specifying techniques in class, providing a handy link within our evaluation LibGuides, and infusing social media evaluation into other applicable sources will drive the point home that all materials need to be evaluated and considered in context. Providing our students with an important reminder at the start of the Fall semester will get them started on the right path.

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