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COMM 230: Politics, Citizenship, and Communication (Dr. Burgchardt)

Fact Checking Strategies

Trying to figure out if something you see on the Internet is quality or not? Try: 

The SIFT Method

  1. Stop
    1. Do you recognize the website?
    2. What was your purpose in getting to this webpage?
  2. Investigate the Source
    1. Where’s the content from? Webpage, webpage’s other coverage, author, author’s affiliation, etc.
    2. Is the caption misleading?
  3. Find Better Coverage
    1. Can you find a more trusted source for the same information?
    2. Is there a consensus for the information provided?
  4. Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context
    1. Can you trace back the information to its original source?
    2. Whose research/reporting is this article written on?


For more information about the SIFT method you can read the free, short ebook: Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Mike Caulfield (Washington State University).

The CRAAP test is a basic set of evaluation criteria and questions that you can apply to any source that you find.  CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

Currency: the timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or outdated for your topic?
  • Are the links still functional and up to date?   

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?

Authority: the source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?  If so, what are they?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    •  examples:
      • .com (commercial)
      • .edu (educational)
      • .gov (U.S. government)
      • .org (nonprofit organization)
      • .net (network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been peer-reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Additional media watchdog groups attempt to find facts behind biased reporting; however, be aware that some of these groups may have their own political bias. It can be useful to consult more than one source to verify the integrity of a claim from multiple angles.

Bias in the News

In a time when elected public officials brazenly lie and foment rhetoric about fake news, it is more important than ever before to be able to discern truth from fiction.  Amanda Taub of the New York Times writes that "the fake-news phenomenon is not the result of personal failings.  And it is not limited to one end of the political spectrum.  Rather, Americans’ deep bias against the political party they oppose is so strong that it acts as a kind of partisan prism for facts, refracting a different reality to Republicans than to Democrats.  Partisan refraction has fueled the rise of fake news, according to researchers who study the phenomenon.  But the repercussions go far beyond stories shared on Facebook and Reddit, affecting Americans’ faith in government — and the government’s ability to function."  Once you are aware of the problem and know what to look for, you are no longer a part of the problem — you can be part of the solution toward building a more equitable, truth-based society.

  • It is important to realize, no news agency can be completely unbiased. Bias technically starts when journalists decide what stories to report on and it is impossible for a journalist to report on every news story that happens in the world every day. Instead, look for agenda.
    • Is a news agency trying to persuade me to one political cause or the other?
    • Convince me to vote a certain way?
    • Make me spend my money on a certain thing or view a company more favorably?  
  • Many news agencies run opinion pieces (i.e. stories that may have some facts, but is mostly just the author giving their opinion). A good news agency will mark them. Usually with a bold and large "Opinion" somewhere on the page. If you do not see clearly marked opinion pieces, this is a red flag! 
  • Remember, just because a news story does not match your worldview does not mean it is "fake news." Consider the news source and their agenda before you decide if it's trustworthy or "real" or not.  
  • It's not necessarily a bad thing to consume news with an agenda. But think of it like nutrition: you need a balance of foods to stay healthy. Keep a balance of news without an agenda and news with an agenda to keep a healthy mind.
    • Treat news with an agenda the same way you would treat an opinion piece: there may be some truth in it, but the writer is trying to persuade you to do something or feel a certain way. 
    • If you only consume news with an agenda that matches your worldview, you risk not being able to see or understand other people.

For fact-checking, it's helpful to draw a distinction between two activities:

  • News Gathering, where news organizations do investigative work, calling sources, researching public documents, checking and publishing facts, e.g. the getting the facts of Bernie Sanders’s involvement in the passage of several bills.
  • News Analysis, which takes those facts and strings them into a larger narrative, such as 'Senator Sanders an effective legislator behind the scenes" or 'Senator Sanders largely ineffective Senator behind the scenes.'

Most newspaper articles are not lists of facts, which means that outfits like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times do both news gathering and news analysis in stories. What has been lost in the dismissal of The New York Times as liberal and The Wall Street Journal as conservative is that these are primarily biases of the news analysis portion of what they do. To the extent the bias exists, it's in what they choose to cover, to whom they choose to talk, and what they imply in the way they arrange those facts they collect. The news gathering piece is affected by this, but in many ways largely separate, and the reputation for fact checking is largely separate as well.

Below are some resources that can help you sort through bias that you might find in the news as well as some sources that are generally considered to be politically neutral and factually accurate:

Placement or Selection Bias

Layout Placement
The editorial staff decides the importance of a topic by its placement in an article. A story can be "buried" by placing it in a section that is less read.

Commercial or Selection
Editors select stories that draw larger audiences of readers in order to meet sponsor demands.

Sensationalism Selection
Media focus on stories that emphasize fear, anger, and excitement.

Temporal Placement
Editors give follow-up and clarifying stories less prominent placement because news is expected to be current and timely.

Visual Selection
The selection of images can skew audience perception of a story's importance and the events reported; therefore, visuals are used to attract readers' attention.

Reporting Bias

Reporting biases occur when an article is written with a particular tone or “spin” so that readers will perceive it in a certain way without applying skepticism or comparing the piece to other news outlets with a different ideology or perspective.

Situational Bias

A bias that occurs when an article is written using the who, what, when, where, why and how rubric. However, in real life there are complexities that may not conform to those guidelines.

This bias is seen when an article factors in the diversity of story through cultural and social issues. Readers located outside of that locale may have different reactions to the same story.

A bias reflected by the way in which words take on different meanings depending on the context of use and the background/culture of the reader.

This bias can be used to understand groups and situations which are not a regular part of our lives. However, classifying and categorizing people or events can affect that way in which a story is perceived.

Source: Lora Cowell, Librarian, HUHS Library Media Center (

Bias in Tech / on the Web

With social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. where you can curate the information you see, it's easy to get yourself in a media filter bubble and only see information that only reinforces your established worldview.


Companies like Google also have sophisticated algorithms to give you search results tailored to what they think you want (and because their business model is based on advertising revenue and monetizing certain keywords): if you run the same search while logged in to a Google account, while logged out, on a campus computer, on your personal computer, or on someone else's computer while they are logged in or not, etc. you may find yourself getting different results.  It can still be an excellent resource (especially since you won't always have access to college/university resources and are likely to rely on web tools like this in the future for your research needs), but it's worth being aware of this.  You might also use the Google Advanced Search which can add a number of useful tricks to your searches!