The internet has blessed us with a treasure trove of knowledge, easily accessible with the click of a button. But unfortunately, not all websites (or blogs) are created equal. Misinformation spreads like wildfire online, so smart surfers employ a set of “checkpoints” that help them distinguish fact from fad. It’s important to remember that just because a self-proclaimed health expert has a lot of followers and fans, doesn’t mean that the information they share online is reliable. In fact, the most outlandish stories often generate the most attention.

As part of its Finding Common Ground initiative, an ongoing partnership between top nutrition scientists and leading journalists who care about grounding their work in solid science, the nonprofit Oldways is sharing advice on how to evaluate the reliability of a website.

1. Author

Take a look at the individual or organization running the website. Are the articles written by people with relevant credentials or background in the topic? Is the organization a reputable, established voice on that subject? If so, these are good signs that the website authors have done their homework.

2. Keeping Current

When was the last time the site was updated? Are new articles or topics added regularly? If the website has not been updated in a long time, you might not be getting the most up-to-date account on that subject.

3. Beyond the Headline

If a headline seems sensational or radical, carefully read the article to determine the source of the  pronouncement. If the actual story contradicts the headline, and if the points aren’t backed up with solid scientific research, it’s a red flag that this website might prioritize clicks over correctness. 

4. Solid Science

Speaking of solid scientific research, check out what kind of evidence the website uses to support their position. If an article incudes links, are they to peer-reviewed articles, or to unfamiliar blogs and low-impact news sites? Reliable websites are transparent about their sources and help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the topic, rather than relying on opinion pieces or second-hand news. Our 11 Tips for Reading a Scientific Study can help you determine if the science cited is up-to-muster.

5. Audience

Who is engaging with the site? If reputable professionals (such as RDs, MDs, PhDs, or other experts) are referencing or sharing information from the site, that offers added confidence that it is a source of solid information.

6. Ask Questions

If something doesn’t quite feel right, it probably isn’t. If you’re not sure how something adds up, or if something posted seems too good to be true, leave a comment or email the author or website administrator to learn more or to ask about their sources. Your comments can help make others think twice! Also, keep in mind that someone selling a product online might have a biased opinion on how useful a particular product (or diet) might be. Reputable bloggers and writers will always disclose relationships and/or sponsorships with companies or products they mention.