Mike Caulfield, digital literacy expert at Washington State University, condensed fact-checking strategies into Four Moves, also called the SIFT Method. These are four things to do to quickly make a decision about whether or not a source is worthy of your attention.
Here is the method explained through a series of videos and explanations for each of the four steps.
Online Verification Skills: Introductory Video
When you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—stop. Don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable. Use the following fact-checking moves to get a better sense of what you’re looking at.
This is a particularly important step, considering what we know about the attention economy—social media, news organizations, and other digital platforms purposely promote sensational, divisive, and outrage-inducing content that emotionally hijacks our attention in order to keep us “engaged” with their sites (clicking, liking, commenting, sharing). Stop and check your emotions before engaging!
You don’t have to do a three-hour investigation into a source before you engage with it. Knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided.
When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source they’re investigating.
Please watch the following short video for a demonstration of this strategy. Pay particular attention to how Wikipedia can be used to quickly get useful information about publications, organizations, and authors.
What if the source you find is low-quality, or you can’t determine if it is reliable or not? Perhaps you don’t really care about the source—you care about the claim that source is making. You want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement. A common example of this is a meme you might encounter on social media. The random person or group who posted the meme may be less important than the quote or claim the meme makes.
Your best strategy in this case might actually be to find a better source altogether, to look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim. Rather than relying on the source that you initially found, you can trade up for a higher quality source.
The point is that you’re not wedded to using that initial source. We have the internet! You can go out and find a better source, and invest your time there.
Please watch the following video that demonstrates this strategy and notes how fact-checkers build a library of trusted sources they can rely on to provide better coverage.
Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. Maybe there’s a video of a fight between two people with Person A as the aggressor. But what happened before that? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding—but you’re not certain if the cited research paper actually said that. The people who re-report these stories either get things wrong by mistake, or, in some cases, they are intentionally misleading us.
In these cases you will want to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented.
Please watch the following video that discusses re-reporting vs. original reporting and demonstrates a quick tip: going “upstream” to find the original reporting source.
Caulfiield, Mike. Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers
“Online Verification Skills – Video 2: Investigate the Source.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 29 June 2018.
“Online Verification Skills – Video 3: Find the Original Source.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 25 May 2018.
“Online Verification Skills – Video 4: Look for Trusted Work.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 25 May 2018.
Mike Caulfied is the Director of Blended and Networked Learning, Washington State Universityand the author of the OER book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers...And Other People Who Care About
Revised version of “The SIFT Method” in Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.