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Information Literacy as a Civic Responsibility: Online Fact Checking

A corresponding guide to the convo talk "Information Literacy as a Civic Responsbility", presented in September 2020 by Ryan Flynn '15, Director of Community-Engaged Learning, and Elora Agsten, Instructional Librarian.

Where to start?

So much of our life is lived online. We socialize online, shop online, and now, even go to class online. However, not everything you see on the internet is true.  This page will show you how to quickly and efficiently sort facts from fiction, so that you don't get trapped by misinformation. 

The SIFT Method

Trying to figure out if something you see on the Internet is real or not? Try: 

The SIFT Method by Mike Caulfield (Washington State University)

  1. Stop
    1. Do you recognize the website?
    2. What was your purpose in getting to this webpage?
  2. Investigate the Source
    1. Where’s the content from? Webpage, webpage’s other coverage, author, author’s affiliation, etc.
    2. Is the caption misleading?
  3. Find Better Coverage
    1. Can you find a more trusted source for the same information?
    2. Is there a consensus for the information provided?
  4. Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context
    1. Can you trace back the information to its original source?
    2. Who’s research/reporting is this article written on?

Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers

Want to learn more about the SIFT method? Read the free, short book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Mike Caulfield.

News Sites

If you're looking for news with minimal political affiliation, the following news sources can help: 

  • The Associated Press (AP). The Associated Press is a coalition of journalists and newspapers that shares news with its members. AP stories are generally considered "neutral" and will often be used when a news agency doesn't have a reporter for a particular region (such as when a small-town newspaper needs to run a story about a national event.) 
  • BBC News. The BBC is located in the UK and covers international news. 
  • National Public Radio (NPR). NPR is available as a podcast, radio show, and a website. It covers national and international news. Local NPR stations will also generally cover local issues and events.  
  • Reuters. Reuters is an international news agency that tends to focus on business and financial news. 
  • USA Today. USA Today is a national newspaper and covers news from around the US. 

Thinking about news

A few notes on news:

  • It is important to realize, no news agency can be completely unbiased. Bias technically starts when journalists decide what stories to report on and it is impossible for a journalist to report on every news story that happens in the world every day. Instead, look for agenda.
    • Is a news agency trying to persuade me to one political cause or the other?
    • Convince me to vote a certain way?
    • Make me spend my money on a certain thing or view a company more favorably?  
  • Many news agencies run opinion pieces (i.e. stories that may have some facts, but is mostly just the author giving their opinion). A good news agency will mark them. Usually with a bold and large "Opinion" somewhere on the page. If you do not see clearly marked opinion pieces, this is a red flag! 
  • Remember, just because a news story does not match your worldview does not mean it is "fake news." Consider the news source and their agenda before you decide if it's trustworthy or "real" or not.  
  • It's not necessarily a bad thing to consume news with an agenda. But think of it like nutrition: you need a balance of foods to stay healthy. Keep a balance of news without an agenda and news with an agenda to keep a healthy mind.
    • Treat news with an agenda the same way you would treat an opinion piece: there may be some truth in it, but the writer is trying to persuade you to do something or feel a certain way. 
    • If you only consume news with an agenda that matches your worldview, you risk not being able to see or understand other people.