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SIFT-ing to Evaluate Sources

The SIFT strategy is quick, simple, and can be applied to various kinds of online content: social media posts, memes, statistics, videos, images, news articles, scholarly articles, etc.

How do we "trace claims?"

Icon of a puzzle with one piece removed and the text Trace claims, quotes and media to the original contextIn the world of reposting, retweeting and re-reporting, we need the skills to locate original writing and trace claims to a source that has verified the information.

Due to the way information is shared online, you may find info that has been stripped of context. This could be due to inaccurate or misleading re-reporting, edited sound and video, images being shared with inaccurate captions, etc.

There may be times when added analysis improves the story that you read. However, in most cases when a story circulates over and over, it can create a game of telephone where the information becomes warped and you’re presented with either a radically wrong version of an event or research. Or someone has added too much of their own opinion. This is when you investigate further and start tracing back to the original source for full context. 

Let's Try It

One issue with navigating the Internet is seeing information posted in snippets, many times with the context removed.

Let's say you come across a tweet like this one - sharing an article, giving their take and sharing a second link. So what's the original information?

Screenshot of a tweet from Judd Legum about a GOP tax bill

Clicking on the Think Progress link brings us to an article with the sub-heading, "A Brookings report warns the Senate tax bill could exacerbate an existing public health problem". So let's find that report! 

You'll notice that this article hyperlinks a lot of information - which is great! But we're looking for the specific report referenced in the headline and you'll find it in paragraph 2. 


Screenshot of text from a article with the words "a recent Brookings Institution report estimates" highlighted

Looking at the report (below), the author provides a link to explain how he did the math to arrive at "between 281 and 659 additional motor vehicle fatalities" due to the referenced policy. But I'm not really confident enough in my skills to try and fact-check an economist but what I can do is verify the reliability of the source publishing their work - Brookings Institute. 


A screenshot of a Brookings Institute report with the words "Read more here on how I arrived at this estimate" highlighted


As we've learned how to do in the Investigate step, I can do a Wikipedia search for Brookings Institute and find that they are a long-standing, well respected think-tank that conducts this sort of policy analysis regularly, has a high marks for credibility, and seems to be centrist in political leanings, and not explicitly partisan - even though the original tweet we read had partisan opinions. 

 Now that we've done that analysis:

  • You don't have to automatically agree with the tweeter's analysis or Brookings! You can continue to look for more sources and look for additional data and perspectives on alcohol taxes and deaths. Issues like these are not always true or false.  
  • You can share the article confidently in knowing you are, at the very least, not sharing misinformation.

Creative Commons Acknowledgement

Note: The information on this SIFT guide was adapted from "Check, Please!" (Caulfield) & the adaptation guide from Wayne State University. The canonical version of this course is available at (Links to an external site). The text and media of this site, where possible, is released into the CC-BY, and free for reuse and revision. We ask people copying this course to leave this note intact so that students and teachers can find their way back to the original (periodically updated) version if necessary. We also ask librarians and reporters to consider linking to the canonical version.

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.