The View

CRAP test can help separate COVID-19 facts from fake news

News story on a tablet, with the word "FAKE" emblazoned on the story.


Published April 21, 2020

headshot of Heidi Julien.
“Digital literacy is particularly crucial in a pandemic because we need to be able to identify accurate information that helps us to keep healthy and safe. ”
Heidi Julien, professor
Department of Information Science

With all eyes across the nation fixed on news updates and social media for crucial information on the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to discern facts from falsehoods is more critical than ever.

With crisis comes misinformation, warns UB digital literacy expert Heidi Julien. To avoid misleading news, she recommends using the CRAP test, a four-step assessment that filters out information filled with bias and fiction.

“Digital literacy is particularly crucial in a pandemic because we need to be able to identify accurate information that helps us to keep healthy and safe,” says Julien, professor of information science in the Graduate School of Education.

“Conversely, we need to ignore or challenge information that threatens our health and safety,” says Julien. “Our democratic institutions depend on people being able to find and use accurate information that helps them engage politically in effective ways, which is especially important during these uncertain times.”

The test suggests users ask critical questions of the message, source and purpose of information being shared. The steps include:

  • Current: Is the information recent? When was the website last updated?
  • Reliable: Does the information provide verifiable facts or data? Is the presentation balanced and unbiased?
  • Authoritative: Was the information shared by a reputable source? Is there a sponsor behind its creation?
  • Purpose: Is the information attempting to persuade you? Are you being sold to?

Utilizing these steps will help people develop their digital literacy skills to understand how information is produced and identify trustworthy messages, says Julien.

The test helps people overcome common mistakes when consuming information, such as giving in to confirmation bias and only accepting messages that align with beliefs, or thoughtlessly trusting the person who shared the news ─ friend or family member  ─ rather than vetting the creator of the information.

Who can you trust the most?

Librarians, that’s who, says Julien.

“We are the experts,” she says. “Information professionals, such as librarians, are highly trained in digital literacy. They understand how to find and evaluate information effectively and efficiently, and they are dedicated to helping other people do the same.”

Turning to an expert for help is useful for people of all ages, says Julien, as many people, especially the young, overestimate their digital literacy skills.

“Spending 10 or 20 years playing around on the internet does not build digital literacy skills. You do not develop digital literacy by being computer literate. This is an enduring myth about digital natives,” she says.

Librarians and other information professionals can assist the public in numerous ways.

In addition to teaching others how to recognize information that is worthy of attention and identify information that should be ignored or avoided, librarians can also help the public dig deeper into questionable sources.

Information professionals may also serve as advocates for quality information and publicly challenge poor information, she says.


Excellent point in differentiating digital literacy from computer savviness.

Luis Colon