Most of the stuff you see on the web is not original reporting or research. Instead, it is often commentary on the re-reporting of re-reporting on some original story or piece of research. And that can be a problem because, in most cases, the more a story is passed around, the more it starts to become a bit warped.
Very often, by the time a story finds you on the web, it has been altered so much that it presents a radically wrong version of an event or a piece of research. The person you are reading usually did no original reporting, made no phone calls to check facts, and often barely skimmed the original story before writing up their blog post, thinkpiece, hot take, or re-reported news item. And so they either get things wrong by mistake, or, in some cases, intentionally mislead.
Trace It to the Original
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. Usually, the original reporting, research, or photo is available on the web. By going to the original reporting or research source (or finding a high quality secondary source that did the hard work of verification) you can get a story that is more complete, or a research finding that is more accurate. The (1:34) video below shows you how going to the source can be as easy as clicking through a link:
Click here to watch a (5:02) video of Caulfield tracing two Coronavirus-related claims back to their original sources.
After You Find the Original Source
When looking at a claim online, figure out what the original reporting source was, and go take a look. Does the original source say the same things as the re-reporting you read first? Does it contradict what you read? Expand on it? Some publications can add value, particularly if reporters are experienced and knowledgeable in the field they are reporting in.
But if it's clear the thing you’re looking at is just re-reporting of reporting, go up to the source and, once at the source, do Move Two (Investigate the Source) in order to find out if it is reliable. In some cases, you may want to perform Move Three (Find Better Coverage) again as well in order to reach a level of confidence in the story/claim that you are satisfied with.
Congrats, you've finished all Four Moves of the SIFT Method!
Want to put your newly acquired skills to the test in a fun, interactive game? Try playing Fakeout! to see if you can sift through all of the false stories to find the truth!
Want to go somewhere else? Use the blue tabs at the top of this guide to navigate to your desired page.
This guide is based on the work of Mike FitzGerald, Los Angeles Valley College Library, which can be found here.
The SIFT Method portion of this guide was adapted from "Check, Please!" (Caulfield). The canonical version of Check, Please! exists at http://lessons.checkplease.cc (CC-BY). As the authors of the original version have not reviewed any other copy's modifications, the text of any site not arrived at through the above link should not be sourced to the original authors.