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Evaluate Sources & Identify Fake News

How to evaluate information sources and identify fake news

SIFT - The "Four Moves" Approach

The SIFT approach can help you improve your skills by following the "four moves", a series of actions to take when encountering claims and sources on the web.


When you first hit a page or post and start to read it — STOP. and Ask Yourself:

  • Do you know the website or source of the information and what the reputation of both the claim and the website is? If not, use the other moves to learn more. Don’t read it or share media until you know what it is.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remember your purpose.

If you just want to repost, read an interesting story, or get a high-level explanation of a concept, it’s probably good enough to find out whether the publication is reputable.

If you are doing deep research of your own, you may want to chase down individual claims in a newspaper article and independently verify them.

Investigate the source

Know what you’re reading before you read it - Take sixty seconds to examine where this information comes from and decide if it is worth your time and how important it is. Knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to interpret what they say.

For example, if you’re reading a piece on economics by a Nobel prize-winning economist, you should know that before you read it. Conversely, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption that was put out by the dairy industry, you want to know that as well. This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right.

Find trusted coverage

Sometimes you cannot determine the reliability of a source (article or video that reaches you) or you don not care about the source at all. You just need to to know if the claim it is making (the story) is true or false. If it represents a consensus viewpoint, or it is subject of much disagreement.

In this case, ignore the source and look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.

For example, if you get an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, you can make a search to find the best source you can on this topic, or to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be.

Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context

Most of sources found on the web is not original reporting or research. It is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. .

For example: A video of a fight between two people with Person A 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. Or a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding — but you’re not certain if the cited research paper really said that.

It is important to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in it’s original context and determine if the version you saw was accurately presented.


To learn about SIFT approach in more detail, you can check out this free three hour online minicourse.


Source: Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.