Corroborate and trace claims in order to determine the validity of sources
Find Better Coverage
The next step in the SIFT method is to find better coverage. This means looking at other sources to corroborate, or verify, the claim that was made. Historians use several primary sources to corroborate the details of an event. Say, for example, that you see an article from the Save the Koalas Foundation that says koalas have just been declared extinct. You’ll want to corroborate with other sources to determine if this is true. Your best bet might not be to investigate the source, but to go out and find the best source you can on this topic, or, just as importantly, to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be.
If you see a lot of reputable outlets independently reporting the same story, that will increase your confidence in it. If other outlets aren’t covering it, or if other outlets are actually reporting that the story is very different, then that should at the very least slow you down. “Find other coverage” that better suits your needs — more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied. Do you have to agree with the consensus once you find it? Absolutely not! But understanding the context and history of a claim will help you better evaluate it and form a starting point for future investigation.
Watch the clip from this video showing how one historical source is used to corroborate the other and verify the weather conditions during a WWI battle.
When you hear important news, you may want to share the news with others. But is the news fact, or is it fiction? Luckily it really isn’t hard to see if something is a hoax or not. Just check trusted coverage. How do you do this? If it is true, we’d expect there to be lots of news stories about it. So, check by using a search engine, or better, a news-specific search like Google News. Most big stories get covered by multiple outlets. Just seeing many results on the news results page may be good enough for you to believe the claim.
Figure 1. Is lightsaber fighting a real thing?
Not Everything in Google News Is Credible
Using news search can give you a more trustworthy set of results than web search, but there are still untrustworthy sites in the mix, including a few that publish outright false information.
The same way that you practice click restraint in looking for the most relevant link, you should also practice click restraint and choose the most credible result on the page. In fact, organizations can pay to have their content moved up in the list of your search results. The best result won’t always be the first. With practice, choosing the best result will become much easier.
Fact-checking websites are useful to web readers because they are designed to give a concise explanation of particular claims and because good fact checks show their work by linking to high-quality sources that you can look at yourself. The website’s ruling is helpful but isn’t what matters most: it’s the explanation and all the links they’ve compiled for you. If you doubt the ruling, you can click to the site itself and see that both sides have a point.
Early in 2018 the Trump administration announced that it would withdraw financial support for Palestine unless the country agreed to concessions. U.S. Ambassador Nicki Haley presented the U.S. position on the matter to the United Nations in January 2018.
Then, according to many people on Twitter, something amazing happened. In defiance of the Nikki Haley’s pronouncement, the Palestinian delegation got up… and began to dance! Did this really happen?
In this case, you could just click the fact-check you see in the general search, assuming you either recognized Snopes or Al-Araby as a reputable source. If you don’t recognize those sources or see relevant material, click into Google News.
While there are videos and photos that are fake or manipulated online, a far more common tactic is to take real media and miscaption it, implying a different meaning or context to the media. Even if photos and videos are “real” it’s important to check trusted sources to make sure you have the whole story. If it turns out you were reacting to something manipulated or falsely framed, consider that your initial reaction was wrong, and adjust accordingly.
Finding better coverage of historical claims often requires more research than just a Google search. Fact-checking and news sites may not have assessed older claims. So where do you look for better coverage? Reach out to your library or search online libraries. Credible online resources include organizations and associations, university and college websites, and professional blogs and websites.
Searching in the Library Catalog
Your school’s library also has a searchable catalog. In the old days, before electronic searching, there were only three ways to search: by author, subject, or title. As you can imagine, it was hard to find a book if you didn’t know the title or author. Subject searching was more effective, but still difficult. Today, there are many ways to search a library catalog (author, title, journal title, subject, and keyword as well as specialty numbers such as the Library of Congress call number and International Standard Book Number.)
A great place to start is with a keyword search. Keywords are the broadest search tool, and are based on very general search terms, like “American Revolution” or “Women in American Revolution.”
Subjects are a very specific set of terms that are helpful for precision searches, for example, “United States — History — Revolution, 1775-1783 – Causes.”
Often, the easiest way to find subject terms is to do a keyword search first and then look at the subject terms for those that are good matches for your topic. The Advanced Search screen allows a few additional search capabilities, such as multiple search fields to narrow the scope of a search term. You can also limit by date, language, location, or format.
If you are having difficulty using your library’s search tool, reach out to a librarian. They are experts in searching and helping students!
Watch the first few minutes of this video (stop at 2:40) to get an understanding of the importance of historical fact-checking and what it entails.
The NRA—a political advocacy organization—currently argues that the correct response to school shootings is arming teachers and school personnel. In light of that position, a pro-gun control organization called Everytown circulated the following graphic:
Figure 1. Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association is quoted as saying, “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools period.”
If NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said that in 1999, it looks like a dramatic change in approach to the NRA’s stance on weapons today.
To complete this activity, find the source of the quote, and read it in its original context. For this one, do not stop at a fact-checker, but track the quote all the way to the transcript of the C-Span video where he said it.
Then answer the following questions. Use the space below to jot down your ideas.
Is this an accurate statement?
Do you feel this statement represents a major shift in NRA policy from twenty-something years ago? Why or why not?
Licenses and Attributions
CC licensed content, Original
Modification, adaptation, and original content. Authored by: Sarah Franklin for Lumen Learning. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike