Identify & Challenge Disinformation (aka Fake News): Web Source Analysis

S.I.F.T. Method of Evaluation

Because anyone can make a website and publish information on the open web without it being fact checked, it’s extra important to critically evaluate what you find before you include it in your academic research.  The S.I.F.T. method lays out 4 moves, or steps you can take, as you investigate each source.

SIFT: Stop. Investigate the source.  Find better coverage.  Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.

S.I.F.T. Step 1: STOP

The first move is the simplest. STOP reminds you of two things:

  1. When you first hit a page and start to read it — STOP. Do you know and trust the website or source of the information? If you don't, use the other moves to get a sense of what you're looking at. Don't read it or share it until you know what it is.
  2. After you begin the process it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole, chasing after more and more obscure facts. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remind yourself what your goal is. Adjust your strategy if it isn't working. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose.

S.I.F.T. Step 3: Find Trusted Coverage

When you come across information, or a claim, you will want to know if it is true or false. Does it represent a consensus viewpoint, or is it the subject of disagreement? Sometimes you don't care about the particular article, you care whether the claim the article is making is true or false. In this case your best strategy is to ignore the source that reached you and look for other trusted reporting or analysis on the claim.

  • Open up a new tab and find the best source you can that covers the claim, or, just as importantly, scan multiple sources to see what the consensus seems to be.
  • Scan search results strategically. Try and find the particular result that combines trustworthiness with relevance before you click. Visit the second page of results to scan as well. 
  • Modify your search when needed. Try adding the term “fact-check” to your search.
  • Find the best reporting on the topic, particularly for click bait style articles that get recycled by popular media. 

S.I.F.T. Step 2: Investigate the Source

The key idea is to know what you're reading before you read it. 

  • Look OUTSIDE of the website to investigate the SOURCE of the information. Wikipedia is great for this (most English language publications will have a wikipedia page) or use Google (domain name + wikipedia video tutorial)
  • Authors: Look up a person's name in Google News. Search for their name in Google Scholar (video)  Is there level of expertise reflected in any of these searches?
  • On social media, investigate the individual or organization that posted the information. Even quickly using the "hover" technique will help you better understand the source. 

S.I.F.T. Step 4: Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media Back to the Original Source

Most stuff you see on the web is not original reporting, but is re-reporting, sometimes with added commentary.  Oftentimes it has been stripped of its original context and references. This is particularly true in social media which tends to sensationalize stories for clicks. Locating the original story, or research, will give you a more complete and accurate version of the information.

  • If the article refers to an original study or news article, click through to follow links to claims
  • Look at the original context. Was the claim, quote, or media fairly represented?


SIFT text and graphics adapted from “SIFT (The Four Moves)” by Mike Caulfield, licensed under CC BY 4.0