Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers
Mike Caulfield, Washington State University Vancouver
Pub Date: 2017
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Conditions of Use
This text comprehensive in it's coverage of how to evaluate the vast reaches of the internet, at least in the scope of popular websites, social read more
This text comprehensive in it's coverage of how to evaluate the vast reaches of the internet, at least in the scope of popular websites, social media, and some academic sources. The table of contents is well laid out and a user can quickly navigate to a section of interest. There are six sections to the 194 page document, a good amount to effectively cover evaluation of internet information, especially from an undergraduate or high school student perspective. While this book covers several relevant topics in fact-checking the internet, it is lacking in depth of information in some sections, most notably in the sections related to academic publishing, journal impact factors, and using Google Scholar as a tool for checking author credibility. Though not a reason to throw out the next, research librarians be warned, additional resources will be needed to accurately cover evaluation of academic resources. There is no index or glossary in this text. However, the nature of the information provided is not technical nor theoretical, so users will likely not require an index or glossary. The table of contents is robust enough to guide users to the section of interest.
The content of this text is error free, there are no glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes. It is written in easily digestible, conversational language, free from jargon or overly detailed explanations. Although the author does use some content examples from the 2016 presidential election, the author does not present false information or claim a political stance. All potentially biased information is included to illustrate various fact checking examples.
This text is heavily rooted in real-world internet stories, sensations and fact checking examples. Examples chosen will not quickly go into obsolescence, as they are used to illustrate how to go about fact checking internet sources. As new tools are developed or trends in website literacy arise, this resource will be easily modified with additional relevant sections.
The text is written in clear, concise, language, I have no concerns with the prose. However, in some sections, the author's clarity is lacking. The language becomes too conversational and a reader or student not well versed in internet fact checking resources may become lost in the explanation. The best example of this lack of clarity can be found in Chapter 24, "Finding High Quality Secondary Sources", where the author attempts to explain finding additional scholarship on a topic in one short paragraph.
The book is consistent throughout in style, terminology, and layout.
This text is incredibly modular. It is only 194 pages yet it is divided into 6 sections and 42 chapters or topics. Each topic is very short and concise, making this resource a great choice for information literacy librarians or class room instructors who only wish to cover a specific aspect of fact checking. Some topics are exercises, which could easily stand alone.
This text is presented in a clear and logical fashion. My only concern is that the text abruptly ends with a mixed topic section. There is no conclusion or wrap up of the skills addressed in the text.
No concerns with the interface. Links provided in text worked, images were clear, and navigation was simple.
No grammatical errors.
No concerns with this text's cultural relevance.
This text is a valuable open resource for teaching students ways to fact check the internet. Although it is short in length and at times does not go incredibly deep into individual topics, it has many great examples which would be valuable, especially to librarian's in an information literacy session.
This text assumes that the student has a familiarity with the Internet and basic search engine queries. I have found that today’s undergraduates have read more
This text assumes that the student has a familiarity with the Internet and basic search engine queries. I have found that today’s undergraduates have a greater level of comfort with tablet and smartphone interfaces than more historically conventional uses of computer technology, such as the mouse and keyboard. For this reason, I believe the book would improve with a brief introduction to the elements of search engine queries, such as Boolean operators and advanced operators, before proceeding into its more nuanced analyses. Furthermore, the text also assumes a working knowledge of claims. An instructor teaching out of this book would find great relief in having a chapter that provided an overview of the various types of claims, so that students know how to recognize assertions that require additional support, as well as a review of the most frequently encountered logical fallacies, particularly the appeal to authority, the genetic fallacy, and the straw man.
The purpose of the text is to assist students in “fact checking,” which involves showing students how to examine different sources and seek the highest authoritative source before assuming a claim is true. There is immense value in the author’s emphasis on “going upstream” when seeking source information, and not solely relying on “reporting on reporting.” Most students rely upon heavily summarized sources, so teaching them the value of reading original sources and reading laterally cannot be overemphasized. However, the text may rely upon authoritative journalistic sources too heavily. The author suggests that iif an acknowledged journalistic authority, such as the New York Times, verifies a statement as factual, than it is unnecessary to further examine lateral sources. As an example, on page 17, when referring to a statement made by Donald Trump, the author states, “Going to the Washington Post site we find out that this claim is for all intents and purposes true. We don’t need to go further, unless we want to.”
The book’s subject is timely and has substantial relevance, given the proliferation of information available on the Internet and the need for individuals to be able to assess the factual validity of claims. Given the popularization of alternative forms of media, and the fact that conventional journalism is increasingly losing its role as a primary source of information for people, individuals must increasingly be web literate to discern inaccurate reporting. As relevant as the concepts presented in this text, the longevity of its content may be in question. The examples used throughout the book are so closely tied to the U.S. presidential election of 2016 that they will likely need to be modified for the 2017-2018 academic year.
The book is presented in an accessible prose which students should find entertaining to read. While the text provides multiple avenues of checking facts, it generally only provides a single example for every approach. Students may find multiple examples for each section helpful.
The book is consistent throughout in its use of terminology.
The text is highly modular, although each chapter builds on the one preceding it, and assumes that the student has read previous chapters. The modularity of the text could be improved by providing a step-by-step process within each section that would allow a new reader to immediately use a particular method of going upstream or finding lateral sources.
The text is divided into parts that revolve around the themes of looking for previous work online, going upstream, and reading laterally. Within each part are sections which focus on the use of different online tools and advanced search engine queries to assess factual validity.
The text’s interface allows a user to click on each chapter within the table of contents and go directly there, which is extremely useful. There are minor typographical errors, such as a lack of numbering on the pages identifying different “Parts” of the book which separate the thematically organized chapters, and the incomplete sections at the end of the book.
The text is free of grammatical errors.
Given that the purpose of this text is to determine the factual validity of claims, it is understandable that it places a heavy emphasis on statements made during one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent American history. However, nearly every political example assumes the reader holds the same bias as the authors, and I believe that this may have the unintended effect of alienating students. Conservatives are far from the only individuals in the American political establishment that have made misleading or hyperbolic claims, and the text does a disservice to students in presenting such one-sided examples of “fact checking.” There are many examples of biased reporting, excessive editorializing, or misrepresentation of information outside of the American conservative establishment. Had the author included even a single example where a liberal figurehead made a questionable assertion, it would be at least a nominal gesture of objectivity. At a time when political divisions within the United States are at elevated levels, I believe this text has the potential for creating a divided classroom.
This text fulfills its promise to provide students with engaging, relevant, and practical methods to verify information shared on the internet. It read more
This text fulfills its promise to provide students with engaging, relevant, and practical methods to verify information shared on the internet. It lays out a logical and digestible plan to assist students uncover truth, or at least trace the origin and veracity of information presented, online. The text ends with a section containing various promising yet unfinished articles (some only a sentence in length). No index or glossary is provided. I feel that including either would have served better to signal the conclusion of a complete work; as it is, the text simply trails off into ideas for future content (The second-to-last section, 42/Advanced Wikipedia, simply promises, “Here we’ll note some of the tracks savvy readers of Wikipedia use to get the full story behind a Wikipedia article: revision histories, talk-page discussions, profile-checking, etc.” while the final section of the text, 43/Promoted Tweets, appears to be 2 or 3 images with no accompanying text, explanation, or pledge).
The content is accurate, error-free and unbiased which is particularly important for a text which addresses publication bias and accuracy (“Evaluating News Sources”, p.118). The text provides examples across the political and journalism spectrum. Much of the content supports guidelines and knowledge practices detailed in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Association of College and Research Libraries). In particular, content that aligns with the framework encourages students to critically analyze a)information given its context/ecosystem and b)what constitutes authority or verifiable expertise. The text also encourages its readers to detach from personal bias. A section in the introduction notes the importance of checking one’s emotions in an effort to curtail the emotionally-charged sharing of unchecked internet content. It also links to a report on research that investigates which emotions contribute to content ‘going viral’.
The content is up-to-date. The activity directions and selected links were valid and operational. Illustrated step-by-step directions mention the browser used and include highlighting to indicate location in the process. Although the internet is dynamic (and web pages or associated technologies can be here today and gone tomorrow), it should be easy to make updates as necessary by replacing links or images.
The text is written in accessible prose. It is easy to understand for instructors and students alike. The text provides definitions and context for jargon/technical terminology (for example, “syndication”, “reading laterally”, and “impact factor”). The text is written informally in a conversational tone. The information and style would fit in a workshop or tutorial.
The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework.
A course using this text can proceed linearly through the content as presented. The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course. Additionally, content (especially activities and exercises) can be realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.
The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion. The text is organized according to the verification process it hopes to impart on students - the text introduces four strategies in Part I and elaborates on each strategy in subsequent Parts.
The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems. Text includes working external links. The images and screenshots included are clear; all text is readable within the images. I would have appreciated internal hyperlinks or anchors to easily navigate (jump) to topical sections in the text rather than scrolling or advancing one page at a time.
The text contains no obvious grammatical errors.
The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive.
Fake News. I can remember when that was an oxymoron. Nevertheless, it is increasingly important that consumers of information be vigilant. Every course I teach has a lesson on information literacy. Digital literacy is a key component to information literacy practices and this book fills the gap left in familiar discussions (between ingesting web information and creating information online). The text focuses on evaluating web information. This is an important skill for students to develop. The text acknowledges how plentifully and frequently information comes across digital natives’ social media feeds. It recognizes the information seeking behaviors of this population and provides relevant suggestions, such as harnessing the power of the right-click for Google Searches, noting the benefits of Wikipedia (footnotes!), and verifying Twitter accounts. It offers students a pragmatic approach to fact-checking. In doing so, it adds a valuable resource to the arsenal of instructors who crusade for critical thinking on all information frontiers (including academic and social), and is similar to the message Markham Nolan presents in the TED talk (“How to Separate Fact and Fiction Online”) I’ve shared in some of the classes I’ve taught. https://www.ted.com/talks/markham_nolan_how_to_separate_fact_and_fiction_online
Table of Contents
Part I. Four Strategies and a Habit
1. Why This Book?
2. Four Strategies
3. Building a Fact-Checking Habit by Checking Your Emotions
Part II. Look for Previous Work
4. How to Use Previous Work
5. Fact-checking Sites
Part III. Go Upstream
7. Go Upstream to Find the Source
8. Identifying Sponsored Content
9. Activity: Spot Sponsored Content
10. Understanding Syndication
11. Tracking the Source of Viral Content
12. Tracking the Source of Viral Photos
13. Using Google Reverse Image Search
14. Filtering by Time and Place to Find the Original
15. Activity: Trace Viral Photos Upstream
Part IV. Read Laterally
16. What "Reading Laterally" Means
17. Evaluating a Website or Publication's Authority
18. Basic Techniques: Domain Searches, WHOIS
19. Activity: Evaluate a Site
20. Stupid Journal Tricks
21. Finding a Journal's Impact Factor
22. Using Google Scholar to Check Author Expertise
23. How to Think About Research
24. Finding High Quality Secondary Sources
25. Choosing Your Experts First
26. Evaluating News Sources
27. National Newspapers of Record
28. Activity: Expert or Crank?
29. Activity: Find Top Authorities for a Subject
Part V. Field Guide
30. Verifying Twitter Identity
31. Activity: Verify a Twitter Account
32. Using the Wayback Machine to Check for Page Changes
33. Finding Out When a Page Was Published Using Google
34. Using Google Books to Track Down Quotes
35. Searching TV Transcripts with the Internet Archive
36. Using Buzzsumo To Find Highly Viral Stories
Part VI. Field Guide (Unfinished Articles)
37. Unfinished Articles
38. Finding Out Who Owns a Server
39. Finding Out When a Site Was Launched
40. Avoiding Confirmation Bias In Searches
41. Finding the Best Possible Opposition
42. Advanced Wikipedia
43. Promoted Tweets
About the Book
The web gives us many such strategies and tactics and tools, which, properly used, can get students closer to the truth of a statement or image within seconds. For some reason we have decided not to teach students these specific techniques. As many people have noted, the web is both the largest propaganda machine ever created and the most amazing fact-checking tool ever invented. But if we haven’t taught our students those capabilities is it any surprise that propaganda is winning?
This is an unabashedly practical guide for the student fact-checker. It supplements generic information literacy with the specific web-based techniques that can get you closer to the truth on the web more quickly.
About the Contributors
Mike Caulfield is currently the director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, and the editor of the New Horizons column for the OpenCourseWare Consortium.
Before that he was employed by Keene State College as an instructional designer, and by MIT as director of community outreach for the OpenCourseWare Consortium.