That’s the end of the basic skills. There’s more advanced skills of course, but you will be best served at the moment making the basic skills habits.
When working with students, we use the SIFT acronym to remind them what they need to do, and it is worth reviewing one more time:
If a piece of content makes you feel strong emotion, surprises you, or creates an irresistibly strong desire to share it: Stop. Use that feeling as a reminder that you need to check it.
Then Investigate the Source. See if the sharing source has enough credibility of their own to be worth your attention, or a share. You can hover as a first check, and follow up with a Wikipedia search.
If the reputation of the source is not up to the size of the claim, Find Better Coverage using news search (for recent news). Watch your search terms, and keep an eye out for fact-checks in the results. If the claim is particularly contentious or new, you may want to wait until multiple sources report it.
Even when you recognize a shared source, Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context to make sure the way the story, photo, or video is framed is correct. Use Control-F or (its equivalent if on a Mac or mobile) to see if terms in the summary appear in the article. Check the date to make sure that the story is truly related to current events, and the information is up-to-date.
Remembering SIFT won’t make you an expert in pandemics, or help you definitively resolve more complex questions. But by using SIFT before you engage with sources (before you share, but even before you read or view) you’ll be able to apply your attention more productively, and over time your understanding of the issues you follow online will improve. On the other hand, if you fail to SIFT, you may find the more time you spend online the less you know.
There are more skills we can teach you that fit into our methodology. In the classroom, for example, we teach students to evaluate scholarly credentials through using Google Scholar, and how to sort legitimate journals from predatory ones through quick impact factor checks (look for IF > 1). We can show you how to use publicly available tools to see how a claim spread across social media,
But if we take the car analogy from our first video, those things are the equivalent of teaching drivers how to execute a controlled skid, or what to do when a car fishtails in snow. They’re important. But before you get all Fast and Furious on us, practice remembering to buckle your seatbelt and do a head-mirror-check before backing out of that parking spot.
Build the small habits of SIFT, and you’ll avoid the vast majority of the errors most people make online. You’ll get smarter, and through sharing better information with your community, your community will get smarter as well. Over the next weeks and months we may update this site with new examples, new skills, and new guidance, but start practicing these skills today and we’ll all see a world of benefit.