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SIFT: Evaluating Web Content

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Anne Dempsey
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The SIFT method is an evaluation strategy developed by digital literacy expert, Mike Caulfield, to help determine whether online content can be trusted for credible or reliable sources of information, and is outlined in UM - Dearborn's 2024-2025 Community Read, Verified: How to Think Straight, Get Duped Less, and Make Better Decisions about What to Believe Online. 

The SIFT method is an evaluation strategy developed by digital literacy expert, Mike Caulfield, to help determine whether online content can be trusted for credible or reliable sources of information. All SIFT information on this page is adapted from his materials with a CC BY 4.0 license.  All SIFT information on this page is adapted from his materials with a CC BY 4.0 license.

 

S - STOP

First, when you first hit a page or post and start to read it — STOP. Ask yourself whether it is important that you take a deep dive into the information provided. Are you using it for a class assignment or your job? Does false or misleading information have the potential to cause harm or have serious consequences? You might also want to stop and check you emotions here. Are you feeling upset, or angry by what you read? Why? Can you set aside your emotions temporarily to investigate the claims of the information source? 

I - Investigate the Source

You want to know what you're reading before you read it. You don’t have to do a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you’re reading a piece on economics by a Nobel prize-winning economist, you should know that before you read it. Conversely, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption that was put out by the dairy industry, you want to know that as well.

This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can’t be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say. Taking sixty seconds to figure out where media is from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness.

F - Find Better Coverage

Think about the actual claim your source is making. You'll need to figure out whether the claim is true or false, and whether the claim reflects a consensus viewpoint rather than a contested or controversial one. In this case, your best strategy may be to ignore the source that reached you, and look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. 

Understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it and form a starting point for future investigation.

T - Trace Claims, Quots, and Media to their Original Context

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding, but you’re not certain if the cited research paper really said that.

When in doubt, see if you can trace the claims back to their original source, such as the original research paper or the full post. You can do this by looking at citations, searching in library databases, or looking for other sources on the open web that discuss the same issue or claim. 

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