Verifying Website Claims: Check Please!: Home

A short version of a course developed by Mike Caulfield at Washington State University, Vancouver.

Verifying Websites: Good and Quick methods

Mike Caulfield at Washington State University- Vancouver has developed a good and fast way to learn how to see if claims made on websites are reliable.  He uses the acronym SIFT:

Stop
Investigate the Source
Find Better/Trusted Coverage
Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the original context.

Stop

When you begin to read a webpage, STOP and ask yourself if you know from experience if this is a reliable source. Your goal is not to track down every claim, but to see if a website is reliable. If you know the site is reliable, go ahead.  If not, go through the next steps.  You may not need to do all the steps- go as far as you need to determine reliability.

Investigate the Source

Say you are looking for something on children and sexual identity.  There are two organizations that you might find: "The American Academy of Pediatrics" and "The American College of Pediatricians." How did fact-checkers determine that one was reliable, while the other had a definite bias?

Try this story: Malaysia Airline Flight makes Emergency Landing after Flying Over Icelandic Volcano. 

And this one:  Woman killed by Alligator in South Carolina Nursing Home.

So, in short, put the name of the organization (or a news website) in your search box, and the word "Wikipedia" Read the Wikipedia story enough to determine if this is a source you want to use.  If there isn't a Wikipedia article, take out the word "Wikipedia" and repeat your search to see what others have to say about this source.

A related technique is to copy the URL up to the internet domain (.com, .org, .biz, etc.) and search for just that part of the URL on another browser tab.

Still not sure if your website is reliable?

Find Better/Trusted Coverage

Background: In 2017, a passenger airplane owned by Malaysia Airlines (Flight MH 17) was shot down by a misslle as it flew over Ukraine.  Here are two news stories on the event.   Many believe that Russia made the attack, or at least provided help to those who did. Using your Wikipedia Search technique, which of these stories is more reliable? [Remember:  Check the source of these two reports: Which is more reliable?  

Russians, Ukrainian to face murder charges over downing of Flight MH 17.

Serial numbers of misslle that downed MH 17 show it was produced in 1986, owned by Ukraine-Russia. 

Still not sure?  Try this last step:

Trace Claims, Quotes and Media to the original context.

Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of some original story or piece of research. And that's often a problem- think of the old "Telephone" game. So what to do?  Trace it to the original!

PRACTICE:  Wayne LaPierre is the Chief Executive of the American Rifle Association. Here is an image from "Everytown" a pro-gun control organization.  Does it quote La PIerre correctly?

 

 

LIBRARY SOURCES. One advantage of using libraries is that libraries take some care before adding things to their collection- that can be books, videos, magazine articles, or recommended websites.  Librarians have acted as "Gatekeepers" to keep most of the bad or misleading information out of the collection. Note- this pertains to things that are verifiable.  Good libraries also try to include different opinions and interpretations of the data.  For example, currently some people say President Trump's actions with the President of Ukraine is an impeachable offense, others say it is not.  They both agree that the two Presidents had a phone conversation-there are detailed notes on the conversation- but the question of whether or not what was said in that conversation is an impeachable offense is, at this time, opinion.

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