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Fake News & Fake Facts: Media Literacy Awareness

Learn how language can be used to in a way that it affects the way people perceive reality. Unlike real news, whose purpose is to simply inform, the main purpose of disinformation is to confuse and manipulate people.

Current News Climate

Fast-paced and complex information environment

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How well the public is equipped to parse through news in the current environment?

  • news consumers must make rapid-fire judgments about how to internalize news-related statements 
    • news-related statements that can come in snippets or with little or no context
  • growing political divide in which sources Americans get news from and trust

Four Moves and a Habit: Lateral Reading as a Strategy for Evaluating Information on the WEb

Fact checking is something anyone can do

fact check emotions icon with heart brain hand

Fact-checking before you share or use information if the facts seems unclear or questionable. Test yourself by trying to state the issues out lout. Do they seem plausible? Can you prove or disprove them? If you are not 100% sure there are steps you can take to get closer to the truth. They need something Mike Caufield, an online literacy researcher, calls “moves.”

Moves accomplish goals in the fact-checking process.  

4 Moves 

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You can try these 4 moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

  1. Check for previous work: 
    • look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
    • check fact-checking websites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim 
  2. Go upstream to the source: 
    • if you can’t find previous research on the claim, go “upstream” to the source of the claim. 
      • try to find the original source of the claim - where the claim was first written about (newspaper, magazine, journal, web article)
      • If the claim was about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported 
      • see if the original source helps you understand the trustworthiness of the information)
      • if you already know the source to be reputable you can stop here
  3. Read laterally 
    • if the source is not known to you, investigate the source by reading laterally
    • learn what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.).
    • decide whether the original source is trustworthy
  4. Circle back: 
    • if you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over
    • use what you know now to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.
    • try different fact-checking sites
    • find an alternate source

A Habit

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  • when you feel strong emotions when confronted with information, STOP
    • these are the claims that you must fact-check.
  • feeling strong emotions about an issue or headline is okay
    • be aware of them and don't let them influence your thinking
  • having biases and worldviews when reviewing and evaluating information is okay
    • put them aside and stay focused on the facts  
  • check your emotions while checking the facts 


You are already likely to check things you know are important to get right, but it's the things you feel strongly about whether joy or anger, humans are more likely to share or use impulsively without first checking the facts.

AUTHOR NOTE: Mike Caulfield is a research scientist who has worked with various organizations on digital literacy initiatives to combat mis- and disinformation, including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project, the National Writing Project, and CIVIX Canada. He is an awardee of the Rita Allen/RTI Misinformation Solutions Prize and the author of an award-winning open textbook, “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. He developed the SIFT method for fact-checking (Stop, Investigate, Find better coverage, and Trace claims) depicted in the box below.

Case Study: Disney Lowers Drinking Age

Image TikTok video Disnewy World Lowering Drinking AgeImage  - Likes on Tik Tok video Oct. 18, 2023

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Use Four Moves to Find the Truth

1. Check for previous work

  • Start with Snopes, a fact checking site.
    • an article on the story\labeled it as fake news satire
  • Check ABC 10 News, aired it on their fact or fiction segment, where it was determined to be fiction (see link below)

2. Go upstream to the source

  • the TikTok video originally came from an article published by the same TikTok user, @mousetrapnews.
  • @mousetrapnews has their own webpage dedicated to news stories about Disneyland parks. 
  • the original article claimed Disney was battling Florida in the courts over the minimum drinking age 
    • no evidence such as sources or court filings are mentioned.

3. Read laterally

  • Google @mousetrapnews
  • the About page admits they are a SATIRE website and  only write fake stories about Disney Parks 

4. Circle back

  • what might arouse your suspicion?
    • article explains the National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan
    • the article asks the reader, "Didn’t think you would get a history lesson from us, did you?"
    • asks a follow-up question  "Now that we have set up the act, we have some Disney news to go with it.",
  • check another the user's Instagram account
    • "Real Disney News That is 100% Fake" and "The Onion Of Disney News".

image mouserap news social medi links

Use the Links Below to Practice Lateral Reading

SIFT: An Easy Strategy for Evaluating Information on the Web


Chart SIFT Method of evaluation


  • When you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—STOP
  • Ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website.
  • Don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable. 
    • The attention economy—social media, news organizations, and other digital platforms purposely promote sensational, divisive, and outrage-inducing content that emotionally hijacks our attention in order to keep us “engaged” with their sites (clicking, liking, commenting, sharing).
    • Stop and check your emotions before engaging!

Investigate the Source

Knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided. Ask yourself:

  • Who wrote the piece?
  • Is the person qualified to write about a topic?
    • Look for author credentials at the top or beneath the article.
    • No credentials? Do a Google search for the person? Move on if you can't find them.
  • Why was it written? What is its purpose? 
    • To inform or educate?
    • To entertain or sell something?
    • To spread disinformation to persuade you to think like the author or person who shared the info?

When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source they’re investigating.

Find Better Coverage 

  • Look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim
  • Trade up for a higher quality source
  • Don't be wedded to using your first source.

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context 

  • Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context.
    • Example 1: You watch a video of a fight between two people with Person A as the aggressor.
      • But what happened before that?
      • What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in?
      • Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading.
    • Example 2:  a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding
      • Are you certain if the cited research paper actually said that?
      • Track it down to verify
  • People who share these stories either get things wrong by mistake, or may be intentionally trying to mislead us.
  • Trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented. 


Butler, Walter, D. Aloha Sargent, and Kelsey Smith. "Information Sources: Bias," Introduction to College Research. OER. Pressbooks. 2020.

SIFT Method: developed by Mike Caulfield, Washington State University digital literacy expert

Link to more information about the SIFT Method of evaluating information below:

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