Misinformation is everywhere. This past year, the amount of misinformation circulating the web has not only been overwhelming, it has also proven to be dangerous. The New York Times shared about the crisis of misinformation online: "Misinformation can be a detriment to our well-being in a time when people are desperately seeking information such as health guidelines to share with their loved ones about the coronavirus. It can also stoke anger and cause us to commit violence. Also important: It could mislead us about voting in a pandemic that has turned our world upside down."
So what does this mean as teachers of literacy? It means we have our work cut out for us. Luckily, kids LOVE exploring and evaluating sources, and the Internet gives us lots of great practice.
As educators, we have an opportunity to shift our teaching and ensure that our students have the tools to SIFT through the facts and the misinformation they encounter online. Unlike a checklist (which can also be useful), the SIFT method teaches your students healthy online behaviors, like stopping to think when they have an emotional response to a meme. The sift method is simple:
Stop: When you first find a source of information, stop yourself and slow down your reaction. Are you having an emotional reaction to the site? Is this a website you know and trust? Don’t read it and share it until you know what it is.
Investigate the Source: Look up your source with a simple Google search, a search on Wikipedia (where you can often find a history or bias of your source), or check it using a tool like mediabiasfactcheck.com
Find trusted coverage: Cross check the information using sources you know are reliable. Is no one else reporting on this? It might not be true. Scan multiple sources for a consensus or multiple viewpoints.
Trace to the Original: Trace claims, quotes, images, or videos back to their original source. What was clipped out of the story/photo/quote/video and what happened before and after? Try to find original sources for context and accuracy. You can do a Google search of quotes and a reverse image search by right clicking any image and choosing “Search Google for Image.”
Give students opportunities to practice the SIFT method with authentic experiences. Here are a few ideas:
Choose a current event or headline and ask students to find three different news sources to evaluate how each source is reporting the same information. Do any of the sources use emotionally loaded words? Do the sources share the same quotes, images, and videos or did the sources choose different elements in their reporting? After students find their own sources, play a game called GOGOMO (give one, get one, move on). After evaluating their sources, tell students to find a partner, give that partner information on their source, get information about a classmate's source, and move on to another partner. After discussing sources with at least three different partners, have a whole class discussion about the differences among sources.
Introduce students to Snopes. Give students ten minutes to find a story, meme, or report that Snopes deemed false. Once they find their item, instruct students to study the false information and the original source. Instruct students to write a list of three actions readers could take to identify similar false information. When students are done, ask them to present their findings to the class. As students are presenting, create a master list of actions readers can take to identify misinformation online.
Give students a list of news outlets to search on Wikipedia. While Wikipedia is not a research site on its own, it can be a great tool for researching the background of news organizations. Instruct students to search the outlets, then use Canva to create an infographic of sources that are trustworthy, biased, or based on conspiracy and misinformation. Some news outlets to research: The New York Times, FOX, MSNBC, OAN, CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, Huffington Post, and the Associated Press.
Practice SIFT with some of the most ridiculous yet realistic websites: Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division (in other words, H20!), Aluminum Foil Detector Beanie , Dog Island, the Ova Prima Foundation, and the YouTube video for Google Bikes. Ask students to explore the websites and then share the red flags that helped them to determine these websites were full of misinformation.
Our kids are bombarded by information (and misinformation) all day long. From the computer screen to the TV screen to TikTok, we can share methods of SIFTing through information so our students are better prepared for the world.
Escape the Newsroom is a FUN and meaningful escape room activity that requires ZERO prep and helps students to apply two methods of evaluating online sources in a hands-on way. Students learn the SIFT method (Stop, Investigate, Find trusted coverage, Trace to the original) and the CRAP method (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose). They apply the methods to various websites--some which are completely ridiculous and some that are actual news sources for students to examine. Start the fun here.