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Fighting Misinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." --Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Newsweek, 25 August 1986, p. 27.

SIFT Method

The SIFT Method was developed by Mike Caulfield as a way to analyze the information you come across and determine if a source is credible.  

STOP | Do you know anything about the website or source of information you found? What about its reputation? Its purpose? You'll want to know these things before you read it, cite it, or share it on social media. 

INVESTIGATE THE SOURCE | It's important to know the expertise and agenda of your source. Try a Google search of the author or publisher to find out what others say about them. Open multiple tabs. 

FIND TRUSTED COVERAGE | Look for the best information on a topic or scan multiple sources to see what the consensus is. Find something in-depth and read about more viewpoints. Even if you don't agree with the consensus, it will help you to investigate further.

TRACE CLAIMS, QUOTES, & MEDIA | Is there a study or report mentioned in the article? Find the original report to see if it was accurately reported. What about images? A reverse-image search may be necessary. 

Evaluate sources with the SIFT method


The first move is the simplest.

First, when you start to read a page - STOP.  Ask yourself whether you know and trust the website or the source of the information. If you don't, use the other moves to get a sense of what you're looking at. 

Second, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, or getting lost in a "click-cycle". STOP and take a second to evaluate your strategy. 

To do: Watch the short video below for an introduction to the SIFT method. 

Investigate the Source

Know what you're reading before you read it.

Fact-checkers don't spend too much time on a website: instead they quickly leave that site to see what others have said about it. Do a quick google search to find out about the creator's expertise and agenda. Look at what others have said about the source to get a sense of their reputation and reliability.

To do: Watch the short video below to see this step in action. 

Find Trusted Coverage

Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more important to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.

To do: Watch Mike Caulfied work through this step in the video below. 

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to their Original Context

Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. Sometimes findings get better as they pass through intermediaries. But in most cases, the more a story is passed around, the more it starts to become a bit warped. 

The solution to this problem is finding the original reporting or research source. 

To do: Watch the two minute video to find how going to the source can be as easy as clicking through a link.