SIFTing By way of Misinformation | Inside Greater Ed


Common readers of this area will know that I’ve long been a fan of Mike Caulfield’s work on creating heuristics that may assist individuals higher acknowledge misinformation on-line. 

I used to be such a fan, I used Mike’s SIFT methodology for one of many experiences in The Writer’s Practice, and if I needed to do it over once more, I’d add like three extra assignments, even make it the main target of a first-year writing curriculum. It’s a elementary talent for not solely scholarship, however citizenship as properly.

Caufield and his methodology have not too long ago turn into extra broadly recognized[1], together with a feature from Charlie Warzelwithin the New York Instances, highlighting Mike’s SIFT methodology to processing info on-line.

SIFT stands for:

1. Cease.
2. Examine the supply.
3. Discover higher protection.
4. Hint claims, quotes and media to the unique context.

It really works. In truth, it simply labored for me the opposite day on Twitter, and I share this expertise to hopefully spur others to be taught and cross on the gospel of SIFT.

In brief succession I noticed various excessive profile accounts[2] re-tweeting a tweet thread that presupposed to be an announcement from French president Emmanuel Macron saying that he was imposing restrictions on those that refused to get vaccinated in order that the vaccinated populace may transfer extra freely. It invoked the best to be taught freely for his adolescent daughters for instance of what needs to be attainable now.

My first thought was: Wow, that’s enormous.

My second thought, as a vaccinated one who is now involved that the deliberately unvaccinated populace is placing everybody in danger was: Possibly it’s about time.

I wasn’t alone in that second thought, on condition that most of the quote-tweets recommended that President Biden ought to make an analogous assertion. It clearly touched a nerve of frustration amongst many who consider that we needs to be and might be past these difficulties. 

Earlier than I even hovered over the re-tweet button, my SIFT coaching kicked in. Coaching is precisely what it’s, because the extra you have interaction in Caufield’s course of, the extra possible you might be to see advantages – like not embarrassing your self by repeating misinformation –  after which to repeat the method subsequent time round. I’ve been SIFTing on-line for a few years now, and the heuristic has turn into second nature.

Stopping allowed some inquiries to kick in and I started to research the supply purely by way of statement. The account tweeting the quote[3] didn’t seem like a information supply or perhaps a verifiable particular person of any form. It had an image of Donald Trump behind bars for its avatar, one thing a reporter wouldn’t select. 

At this level I had sufficient info to know that I shouldn’t re-tweet it as a result of the sourcing was sufficiently doubtful and I didn’t even trouble investigating additional. This took all of 30 seconds, if that.

Had I wished to proceed my investigation, I may have googled a part of the quote to see if it confirmed up in wherever else, and would have discovered that the reply was no, that the tweet itself was the one supply. Such an announcement from the president of France would’ve been worldwide information, not one thing confined to a single tweet by an nameless account.

Not too lengthy after I made my evaluation, I noticed some debunking tweets, mentioning that – not like what was invoked within the quote – Macron doesn’t have adolescent daughters. His youngest stepchild is in her 30’s.

That is good crucial considering and web sleuthing, however the vital level about Caulfield’s SIFT methodology is that it doesn’t require anybody to know and even be taught something about Emmanuel Macron. The struggle in opposition to misinformation isn’t primarily about presenting the correct info. Relatively, it’s about figuring out the unreliable sources of data and figuring out that no matter they are saying can’t be trusted, as was the case right here.

Caufield’s methodology labored completely for me, and would have labored for anybody else on this state of affairs, and once more, it takes little or no time and requires studying no new info to carry out.

The previous methodology of inspecting the truthfulness of the claims and data that we see as rooted in crucial considering practices, e.g., Does Macron have adolescent daughters?, is each outmoded and outmatched by the tempo and quantity of on-line misinformation. SIFT is a software for this medium and this time.

It’s not a assure. Failing to STOP remains to be an possibility, and I can’t declare 100% vigilance over myself, but it surely positive feels good when it really works.

I’ve been considering currently about extending the ideas of SIFT  – Does this info come from a dependable supply? – to broader functions. For instance, there are main public figures who’re constant intentional sources of misinformation. Relatively than bothering to determine if what they’re saying has a modicum of reality or accuracy, why shouldn’t we be prefacing all our understanding of what they are saying with the information that they’re purveyors of misinformation?[4]

Such a shift would each enhance the accuracy of our public discourse, and save a heck of numerous time. 


[2] Names withheld to guard the responsible.

[3] It has since been suspended by Twitter.

[4] I’m considering Christopher Rufo, he of the invented CRT panic is an efficient instance right here.

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