The Internet allows people to create and share information in ways that once seemed possible only in science fiction. At the same time that we can benefit from the open nature of the Internet, it's sometimes hard to decide what online information to trust and to use.
This guide offers some simple, evidence-based strategies for evaluating the credibility of online sources.
These strategies will help you look beyond the less important surface features of a web source (for example, how professional it looks or if it's a .org), and think more carefully about who is behind the source, what their purpose is, and how trustworthy and credible they are.
This guide draws largely on research from the Stanford History Education Group and on teaching materials from Mike Caulfield's SIFT approach and his Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.
SIFT is a helpful acronym for initially evaluating source credibility. SIFT (from Mike Caulfield) stands for:
STOP. Pause and ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim's reputation.
If not, use the four moves (below) to learn more. If you start getting too overwhelmed during the other moves, pause and remember your original purpose.
INVESTIGATE the source.
Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Is this source worth your time? Look at what others have said about the source to help with you with questions.
FIND trusted coverage.
Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more important to assess their claim. Look for credible sources; compare information across sources and determine whether there appears to be a consensus.
TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, a news story is reported on in another online publication or an image is shared on Twitter). If needed trace the information back to the original source in order to recontextualize it.
Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves), which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.