Mass youth experiment about source criticism

17 May 2017

Students at senior elementary and upper secondary school are being invited to join a research experiment on source criticism in social media.

Young people across Sweden are being invited to take part in a major research project on source criticism in digital media. Signing-on starts in May and the mass experiment will be conducted in September 2017.

“We want to examine how credible young people’s digital news feeds are. So we’re inviting students to act as research assistants by assessing their own news feeds, and at the same time we hope, of course, that these young people who take part will learn how to examine the sources of this news critically.”

The speaker, Thomas Nygren, is a senior lecturer in didactics and associate professor (docent) in history, specialising in educational sciences, at Uppsala University’s Department of Education. He is one of the researchers behind “News Evaluator 2017”, the mass experiment to be carried out as part of the “Researchers’ Friday” event (part of the EU’s European Researchers’ Night)  in September 2017, for students at senior elementary and upper secondary school.

In the experiment, the young people will examine news in their social media feeds in terms of set criteria, and report the news and their conclusions to the researchers. The criteria are based on new research on how news can be investigated with a critical attitude towards its sources.

Source criticism to discriminate among situations

Research has shown that with critical thinking, we can discriminate among various subjects, and take into account how and where information is published. To examine digital news critically, a high level of education and generally critical attitude are not enough. For example, the researchers have tried getting experienced researchers in history to scrutinise sources of digital news feeds critically. Historians apply source criticism daily in their work, to evaluate different sources they have in their research.

However, the historians in the survey turned out to be not much better than others at examining news in digital news feeds. For example, they remained on the first news website they visited, instead of searching the Internet for other sources. When, instead, the researchers investigated how news editors on journalism media work, this occupational group proved to be expert at critical examination of digital news feeds. They had a different way of working, such as immediately searching for the same news on other channels.

Source criticism for digital news

“Everyone who wants to spread fake news has understood how to make a good website that isn’t exposed by the existing source-critical checklists. You therefore have to learn another procedure for critically examining digital news.”

Besides critical scrutiny of digital news, Nygren emphasises the importance of broad subject knowledge among the students. To reveal fake news, criteria of source criticism are insufficient. We must also have knowledge of various phenomena in society, to be able to judge the text and images to which we are exposed.


Public & Science (Vetenskap & Allmänhet, VA) is a Swedish association for dialogue between researchers and the public. Its members are various organisations, higher education institutions and private individuals.

Researchers’ Friday is a forum for the public and researchers to meet. Part of European Researchers’ Night, which was started by the European Commission, it is held on the last Friday in September every year.