by Heather Stafford, DLINQ pedagogical consultant

Earlier this year while watching the news one of the anchors perfectly captured my exasperation with our current information loop. As I listened to yet another interview with someone who made vast generalizations that appeared custom-designed to pivot away from answering a question and towards an attack on someone who disagreed with them, the interviewer paused with an incredulous look on his face and asked point blank:

“Do facts matter anymore?”

I remember feeling relieved to see someone pointing out that there are still such things as facts. It might be a relief to you to know that there are specific skills and techniques that you can use in the digital realm to find the truth in an image, video, or news article. In Mike Caulfield’s online book “Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers” he states:

“What people need most when confronted with a claim which may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something we have decided to call moves.”

These four moves include: checking for previous work, going upstream to the source, reading laterally, and circling back. What does this look like? Check out Caulfield’s Climate Based Web Literacy Activity to see an example.

Caulfield also points out a very important habit that we must begin to cultivate: checking our emotions.

The habit is simple. When you feel strong emotion — happiness, anger, pride, vindication — and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check.

Why? Because you’re already likely to check things you know are important to get right, and you’re predisposed to analyze things that put you an intellectual frame of mind. But things that make you angry or overjoyed, well… our record as humans are not good with these things.”

This response is also referred to as confirmation bias and is amplified in social media circles through filter bubbles. You can view a TED video about this here.

So what can we do? Here are some important tools and methods you can use to decipher and decode media messages:

  • Use reverse image searches to determine the origin of a viral image.
  • Check out the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive to see what past versions of web sites looked like.
  • Find out who is the registered domain holder for a web site by using WhoIs.
  • Practice using the four moves in Caulfield’s “Adventures in fact-checking for students”
  • Use Snopes, the “oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet, one widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources” to check that claim you are questioning.
  • Employ the Media Deconstruction/Construction Framework from the Center for Media Literacy to ask yourself five key questions and core concepts about media that you are either consuming or producing.
  • Critically consider how your own personal biases impact the information you are more likely to assume to be true, and use these fact checking tips on those statements as well as those that cause an immediate emotional reaction.
  • Check in with your local librarian to learn more about resources available to you to do additional fact-checking work.

Keep reading!

AASCU, Digital Polarization Initiative

Mike Caulfield, Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers

Center for Media Literacy, CML Framework

Middlebury Libraries, Internet News, Fact-Checking & Critical Thinking Lib Guide at Middlebury

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