As students conduct their research and formulate their ideas and opinions, they are faced with the challenge of discerning fact from fiction. While the online world offers up some fantastic tools to help, knowing how to use these tools is crucial.
In his open textbook, Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, Mike Caulfield provides a few key “moves” that students can make when confronted with any online information that may or may not be true. Read on to learn these fact-checking moves and some of our favorites tools that can help your students at each stage.
#1: Check your previous work
Has another source already done some fact-checking or provided a synthesis of what is known on a subject or claim? Tried-and-true fact-checking sources often are a great place to start. Here are some of our favorites:
- Pulitzer-prize winning Politifact researches the claims of politicians and checks their accuracy.
- Snopes, a well-established debunking site, provides citations to its sources.
- The Washington Post’s Fact Checker provides rigorous investigation of claims made in news stories. There is a YouTube channel as well as a robust website.
- FactCheck.org reviews claims made in news talk shows, CSPAN, television ads, and more. The SciCheck feature is also available on the site to help check the veracity of scientific claims that appear in the media.
#2: Go “upstream” to find the original source
Most web content our students consume likely is not original – but they may not know that. Perhaps your student got an idea for a research paper based on a news story she saw in a tweet. That student may need some guidance locating the original reporting or journal article that sparked that tweet before they can successfully evaluate the claims included in the piece.
- Librarians love a good hunt! If your students are struggling to locate the original source of a claim, they can visit the Reference Desk in Morris Library where UD librarians can help.
- Google’s Reverse Image Search is a great tool for tracking down a chart or picture that may have been snipped from its original context, and discovering the earliest place that it was posted.
- Sometimes local new sources are the best way to verify a claim. Access original reporting from around the corner – and around the globe – in the Library’s newspaper databases.
#3: Evaluate the original source – and read laterally
When an original source is in hand, encourage your students to consider what they know about that publication, its editorial process, its author and its purpose or audience. In situations of outright disinformation, however, the site itself may not be upfront about its aims. In addition to applying tried-and-true evaluation criteria, investigate what others say about the source in a move that Caulfield calls “reading laterally.”
- For some basic criteria and guidance on source evaluation, check out the Library’s research guide on evaluating sources.
- With Google, you can search for references to a site, like The Onion, without pulling up that site in the search results. If the site is rife with disinformation, fact-checking sites may appear in the results identifying it as such. To do this, use Google’s Advanced search or a search string as follows: “theonion.com-site:theonion.com“
- If your students are evaluating a journal or journal article, the RetractionWatch blog reports on retractions of scientific papers.
- It’s not always enough to evaluate a source by looking at the publication or author of the piece. When students are tasked with evaluating the claims and sources within a blog post, news story or article, one of our favorites tools is the IMVAIN checklist developed by the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.
#4: Check your reactions, and start over if necessary
Our emotional responses to content happen very quickly. Even if we know that we carry certain biases with us, we may not have the energy or foresight to check a claim thoroughly before choosing to believe it.
Encourage students to reflect on how their own feelings and life experiences interact with their approaches to fact-checking. Asking students to articulate how a source makes them feel, whether they want to believe it and why they ultimately decided to trust it can help students slow down and become more aware of their evaluation processes.
- The RedFeed BlueFeed from the Wall Street Journal is a program that depicts two parallel Facebook newsfeeds from conservative and liberal sources sharing stories on topics such as President Trump, abortion, healthcare, immigration, and more. Although the site ceased updates in August, it is a useful snapshot of how our browsing habits and political categorization on Facebook can shape what we see.
Want to know more? Reach out to Meg Grotti (email@example.com) to learn how librarians can support your student fact-checkers.
I had a psychology professor in undergrad whose first master’s degree was in Library Sciences. She taught us how to use a library as part of our research foundations course. Granted this time in my life was way before the advancement of online options to search for information, but all of the above tips read just like the processes she gave us. And, when in doubt, ask a librarian!