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"Fake News," Misinformation & Disinformation

How to identify (and avoid) false information.

Practice click restraint

Click restraint is a strategy that involves resisting the urge to immediately click on the first search result and instead spending a little more time scanning search results to make a more informed choice about where to go first.

To learn more about click restraint, check out the video below developed by Civic Online Reasoning.

Engage in lateral reading

Many fact checkers and scholars recommend the tactic of reading laterally when coming across a new stream of information. This practice encourages that, when encountering an unfamiliar webpage or source, readers open new tabs to first investigate the credibility of that source (Caulfield, 2017). By learning more about the source's history and background, we can obtain more context and determine whether the information provided by a source is reliable. When learning about an unfamiliar source or author, The News Literacy Project suggests some questions to consider:

  • Who funds or sponsors the site where the original piece was published?
  • What do other authoritative sources have to say about that site?
  • When you do a search on the topic of the original piece, are the initial results from fact-checking organizations?
  • Have questions been raised about other articles the author has written?
  • Does what you’re finding elsewhere contradict the original piece?
  • Are credible news outlets reporting on (or perhaps more important, not reporting on) what you’re reading?

To learn more about lateral reading and see examples, check out the video below developed by the University of Louisville.

Use the SIFT method

The four steps in the SIFT method

The SIFT method is a four-step process for sorting fact from fiction on the web.

The method was developed by Mike Caulfield, a misinformation researcher and scholar at the University of Washington, and is meant to to build verification skills without tedious checklists.

It is discussed in-depth on his blog and in his free and openly licensed book, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. So, what are these four steps?

  1. Stop: Check in with yourself and your emotions.
  2. Investigate the source: Know what you're reading before you read it.
  3. Find better coverage: Look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim.
  4. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context: Determine whether information was taken out of context. Seek to recontextualize the information so as to better understand validity and intent. 

Try prebunking techniques

Prebunking, or pre-emptive debunking, is the process of debunking lies, tactics, or sources before they strike. It’s like inoculating people against misinformation.

Prebunking draws on inoculation theory, a social psychology/communication theory which posits that by exposing people to a weakened dose of a persuasive argument or technique and pre-emptively refuting it, they develop psychological resistance against future manipulative persuasion attempts.

As Garcia & Shane (2021) highlight, there are three main types of prebunks:

  1. fact-based: correcting a specific false claim or narrative
  2. logic-based: explaining tactics used to manipulate
  3. source-based: pointing out bad sources of information

10 Tips for Prebunks

Learn more about manipulation techniques commonly encountered online -- like ad hominem attacks, scapegoating, false dichotomies, and emotionally manipulated language -- in the videos below.