I recently was took a religious history course on tape, The Historical Jesus, taught by Bart Ehrman at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. As a preamble to the meat of the course Professor Ehrman presented a criteria for assessing the historical veracity of sources (e.g. how accurate is that 1,000 year old diary?). The criteria he suggested was threefold:
1) Independent attestation. In other words, multiple sources.
2) Dissimilarity. Does the source have a vested interest in pursuing this point of view?
3) Contextual credibility. Is this evidence consistent with what was going on at the time?
Well, while the academics may take credit for the fancy names, the reality is we are all using these criteria in navigating the Internet in general and user generated content in particular. A few examples:
Independent attestation. Think about the last time you checked out an iphone or Amazon review. What conclusion did you draw after seeing the tenth review complaining about the app inexplicably crashing? Or the book being insipid? If the raw number of complaints moved you to take a pass on the product, you are invoking the criterion of independent attestation.
Dissimilarity. When you are wondering why a Facebook friend seems obsessed with posting about how much she loves a particular salad dressing (does her husband own the company?), you are invoking the criterion of dissimilarity.
Contextual credibility. Think back to the stolen Twitter identities. Provocative, out of character statements made on some prominent Twitter accounts raised instant suspicion. These types of postings were quickly discredited by our instinct for contextual credibility.