Part 3: Valuing Sources

26 The SIFT Method

Navigating Digital Information

Now that we’re in our fact-checking frame of mind, let’s start thinking about why fact-checking is an important part of your daily information practices. Watch and consider the following video and then learn more fact-checking strategies used by experts!

SIFT Your sources

Mike Caulfield, Washington State University digital literacy expert, has helpfully condensed key fact-checking strategies into a short list of four moves, or things to do to quickly make a decision about whether or not a source is worthy of your attention:

SIFT: Stop. Investigate the source. Find better coverage. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context

Stop

Just a reminder to practice our new fact-checking habit! Get an emotional response? Take a moment to stop, ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website. If you don’t, use the other fact-checking moves that follow, to get a better sense of what you’re looking at.

Investigate the Source

When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites. 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.You don’t have to do a three-hour investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you’re reading a piece on economics, and the author is a Nobel prize-winning economist, that would be useful information. Likewise, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption, you would want to be aware if the video was produced by the dairy industry. This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can’t ever be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided.

Watch and consider the following video to learn how to get a consensus on sources and how Wikipedia is helpful for this strategy.

Find Better Coverage

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.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.

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.

Watch and consider the following video demonstrating this strategy, noting how fact-checkers build a library of trusted sources they can rely on quickly.

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context

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 one person acting 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. 


This chapter was adapted from the following:
Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler, Aloha Sargent, and Kelsey Smith, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Finding Information by Kirsten Hostetler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.