Week 4: Using the Internet to find credible sources

Ordinarily, we use this week to talk about citation managers. We’re still going to do that. But I want to take a little bit of time to think about how the Internet can make source reliability challenging, and how we can get around it.


Due today:

“How Can I Fight Fake News?”, Advice for/from the Future. (Images and transcript here.) (Responses: blog post, audio)

In class today:

Walk through this activity about deepfakes.

Then, in your group, answer these questions together:

  1. Why are fabricated sources and stories dangerous?
  2. Is there ever a time where it might be useful to fabricate or alter a real source?
  3. How can we guard against being caught by stories or sources that are fake?

When you’ve come to a conclusion about these questions, one member of the group should post in the main #week4 channel on behalf of the group.

One of the ways that false news gets spread on the Internet is by bots. But bots can sometimes be channeled to good purposes. Read this article by Caleb McDaniel about a historical Twitter bot he created, then think through how something like Twitter bots might be used to spread good, or at least spread truth. Then consider building one of your own about the subjects of this class (which could be your conflict or something related to the tech we’re learning about). You can do this individually or in your group.

If you do build a Twitter bot individually about your conflict, you could potentially count it as Project #7. Submit it to me when it’s done and we’ll talk through what you’ve done.


If you’re feeling confident that you can spot deepfakes, how about trolls? Do this activity to see if you can figure out how to determine what social media accounts are real and what accounts are designed to inflame emotions.

Blog post

After you’ve done this, write a short blog post reflecting on social media: what makes it worthwhile? what harm can it do (especially in a moment where partisan tensions are high)? Write about rules you have or might want to institute for your own social media usage.

In your post, also consider the challenges a historian might have when writing about the 21st century. How might a historian be able to use social media content to write the history of our time? What can it tell us about our time? What can’t it tell us?


Sources are a critical part of the historian’s work. We cite from both secondary and primary sources (sources from other historians and sources from the time period we’re working on). Sources are what make or break a historian’s argument. But not every source is created equal (just like not every social media account is created equal). It’s important to understand whether our sources are reliable, and it’s equally important to cite the sources that we use. So today our work is all about reliability and citation.

Listen to the podcast here, or read the transcript.

Citation: Small Project #2

Throughout your college career and beyond, you’re going to be asked to keep track of where you got information from. To do so, you should use a citation manager. For this class, we’re going to use one built here at GMU: Zotero. You’re also going to get to use your library skills from last week.

  1. Install Zotero and sign up for an account. (Watch these videos for a better idea of how to install and use Zotero.)
  2. Add one of each of these types of sources about your conflict to our shared class Zotero group: book, journal article, webpage. Make sure the metadata is complete and accurate–don’t trust the automatic filling to have gotten it correct! You’ll need to sync your account with your desktop Zotero app in Preferences in order to see the group library in your app–then add a source to the group library by using the Zotero connector while the group library is open in Zotero.
  3. On your blog, write a post explaining why each of these sources should be considered reliable (according to the criteria up above); include a bibliography generated from Zotero (Chicago style, please!).