Professional fact-checkers who are skilled at evaluating the information they come across online use three questions to guide their search for and evaluation of information. These questions are:
1. Who is behind the information?
Where did this information originate? How is the person that is relaying the information related to it (aka what authority do they have)? Who is funding the author, and if it is different, the source of the information? How might those answers influence your evaluation?
2. What is the evidence?
Is there proof to back up the claims being made? Is there any indication that the evidence may have been taken out of context? Does the evidence brought support the claims being made? Is the evidence reasonably represented?
3. What do other sources say?
Do trusted sources of information agree with what is being presented, and how? What do other, trusted sources say about the source of your information?
• "A strategy for investigating who's behind an unfamiliar online source by leaving the webpfage and opening a new browser tab to see what trusted websites say about the unknown source." -Civic Online Reasoning, "Lesson: Intro to Lateral Reading"
• In other words, go to a search engine! Try Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo.
Tips for lateral reading:
• Using Google, you can search for webpages about a specific website while excluding pages from that same website using the following format: [WEBSITE URL] -site:[WEBSITE URL]
• An example might be twitter.com -site:twitter.com
• This would pull webpages about Twitter that aren't on Twitter.
• You can then add in more search terms as necessary and relevant to your search.
• If you need to verify an image, try using a reverse image search. These tools let you search the internet for matching pictures, which will often lead you to an image's original context and/or fact check articles if the image has been doctored.
• To verify a video, you can try using keywords describing what you see in the video.
• "A strategy that involves resisting the urge to immediately click on the first search result. Instead... scan the results to make a more informed choice about where to go first." -Civic Online Reasoning, "Lesson: Click Restraint"
• Google results are not relevancy ranked, the top result is not necessarily the best, most relevant, or most reliable.
• Scan the whole first page (at least) to look for trends and trusted sources before choosing what to click. A few more seconds here will save you much more time overall!
• To maximize your search efficacy and to best practice click restraint, pay attention to the parts of the search results page.
• Here is an example from a Google results page:
• URL: The URL, marked in red, is the address of the webpage. While the upper level domain (the three letter designation at the end, like .edu or .com) is not a great indicator of reliability, pay attention to the middle part of the URL. This will often tell you the organization responsible for the website. In this example, we can see US News, Wikipedia, and Facebook.
• Webpage title: The orange marks the webpage title. This will tell you what page specifically came up in your results list. Does the page sound relevant to your search? If it is an article title, what does it tell you about the contents of the article?
• Snippet: Snippets, in green in the example, are previews of what you will find on the website if you click into it. What information can you see from the snippets? Do they already tell you what you need to know?
• The whole page: The whole page, or at least part of it, is marked in teal. Look for sources that you already know are trustworthy. Examine URL, webpage title, and snippets for all the results on the page before selecting one. What can you tell from that aggregated information? Are there any trends based on what websites are coming up, or on what their snippets say? For instance, based only on the example image, I can already determine that HCCC is an urban community college in NJ. I can also determine the college's size, age, and president. If you were trying to find out what Hudson County Community College is, you would already have an idea of what answers you will find, based on just these three results on a results page, without clicking into anything. Imagine how much more information you will have at your disposal with a whole page of URLs, webpage titles, and snippets!