If we Don't Teach Students how to Confirm the Validity of Information They Find on the Internet, Who Will?
In yesterday's post, we were introduced to Michael Caulfield's free, Creative Commons licensed eBook, “Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers“. Today we'll check out some of the strategies he suggests.
First Strategy: Look for Previous Work (has someone already done the fact-checking for you?).
Caulfield suggests the use of fact checking sites like Snopes.com, Factcheck.org, and Politifact.com to see if they may have already researched and written about the information you are checking into. For example, these days some of us often feel driven to try and determine if certain “facts” offered by world leaders are valid. Sites like Snopes are very good about tracking down the facts behind the “facts” and shedding some light on the truth. Numerous sites like this are suggested in the book.
Building on this suggestion, Caulfield offers one of my favorite web search parameters – the “site” function. By adding “site: ____” to your search, you are telling Google (or another search engine – many recognize this construct) that you want results from that specific web site. So, for example, rather than going to Snopes.com directly, you could just Google “job growth 2017 site:snopes.com” to see if there are claims about job growth being assessed by Snopes. You can also use this parameter to limit your search to just one domain type, such as “edu” or “gov” (example: “financial aid site:gov”). This can be a very useful technique.
Caulfield also offers some great insights into Wikipedia, helping teachers and students alike to understand that it is generally a far more useful and accurate tool than some believe it to be.
Second Strategy: “Go Upstream” (seek out the original source)
If you can't find anything about the information you seek to assess on any of the fact checker sites, then the next suggestion is to “go upstream”. That is, try to identify the original source of the information and consider its validity. This is where things really get going – the first technique is helpful and convenient, but this one is more fundamental.
One of the first things we get into in this section is the proliferation of sponsored content on so many news sites. For example, “Paid Partner Content” on the CNN site is presented just like the rest of the content, with only the title of the section to differentiate it. And so many news sites just regurgitate content from other sources, sometimes through syndication agreements, and sometimes by simply referencing someone else's story (“as report by …”). No wonder people have a hard time discerning fact from fiction – many news sites are littered with ads masquerading as news and non-original “reporting”!
“Going upstream means following a piece of content to its true source, and beginning your analysis there. Your first question when looking at a claim on a page should be “Where did this come from, and who produced it?” The answer quite often has very little to do with the website you are looking at.”
Going to the source gets more complicated when we're talking about viral content. There is a great section in the book that walks us through digging into the source for a viral post.
A helpful technique that is shared here that was new to me was that if you are using Google Chrome as your search engine (which seems pretty likely, assuming these stats from Netmarketshare.com are correct), you can highlight any content displayed in your browser and right-click to get an option to search Google for that content (try it!). This can make this “drill down” approach to finding a source much more efficient. The basic idea is to look for text within the content that it makes sense to search for – a source reference, a quote, that sort of thing – something that seems like it should get you closer to the source. A few smart searches can often get you pretty far.
Another good tip – as you look over search results, focus in on the URLs in the search results, as these can often provide more clues than the main result listing titles.
Caulfield provides an example of such a search in this video:
Another general concept offered is to try and get closer to the source in both time and place. That is – try to find the earliest references to the source or content, and references that are local to where it seems to have originated from. We see some of that in the video above, and this technique is illustrated repeatedly in the book.
I look forward to practicing these techniques in the coming weeks and months, and incorporating them in my Digital Literacy course lessons.
Third Strategy: Read Laterally
This section starts off with the statement that, “good fact checkers read ‘laterally', across many connected sites instead of digging deep into the site at hand.” I'm just getting started reading this section as I write this, so I will stop here and intend to write another post sharing what I learn. In the meanwhile, be sure to download and check out “Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers” for yourself!
Much thanks to Michael Caulfield for writing and sharing this excellent resource. Teaching our students to be able to assess the accuracy of content has never been more vital!