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Evaluating Internet Sources: SIFT Method

A guide to evaluating websites for quality

SIFT (The Four Moves)

While the evaluation criteria and questions that are described on the other tabs are good ways to evaluate websites, they aren't so good for the other information that we find online like posts on social media posts or memes that we may find online. The SIFT method works well for all of these kinds of online sources.

infographic of the SIFT method

The SIFT method for evaluating online sources of information was developed by Mike Caulfield. Read more at his blog: https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/

Stop

When you first see a online source that you aren't sure about stop and ask yourself, do I know this source? Do I know it is reliable? If you aren't sure, then go through the other three steps.

person holding out hand to indicate stop

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

You should stop and regroup whenever you find yourself going off on a tangent online or if you get bogged down. The internet is all about speed, but it is often good to slow down and do some thinking before and while you are searching.

Investigate the Source

Before you read an article or a post, investigate the source of that article or post. Who is saying this? What is their expertise? Do they have an agenda?

To answer those questions use a tool like Google or Wikipedia. Find out more about who is saying it before you dive into what they are saying.

NewsBiscuit headline with NewsBiscuit title highlighted

Find Trusted Coverage

Does the story, article, or image sound too good to be true? Does it reinforce a bias that you already have? Is it only saying good things about your side and negative things about the other side. Find trusted coverage about that topic. Go to a source that you know is reliable in this area. If you aren't sure, look at different sources and see if they are all saying the same thing.

Does the image below seem to good to be true? Click on it to find out.

girl with two broken arms in front of a science fair display about jumping off buildings

Trace

Often what we read online is just the headlines or is a little bit of information that has been taken out of context. Try to find out where the information originally came from and trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context. Often you will find that story or fact is different when you can see the appropriate context.

Can pizza prevent cancer? Did someone win an award for that research?

headline: scientist says pizza can prevent cancer, wins international award

Well, sort of. Silvano Gallus has done research showing that pizza made in a particular style in Italy might protect against illness. He won the 2019 Ig Noble Prize and was awarded 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars.

website of 2019 Ig Noble prize winners

Lateral Reading

Lateral reading is a great way to approach sources that you find online. Rather than looking at a website or other sources from top to bottom, look outside the website and investigate what other sites and resources say about the source you are considering. This technique is often used by professional fact checkers.

This video below from John Green discusses lateral reading.

Fact-Checking Websites