Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

October 3, 2017 | Updated: June 1, 2021
Author: Michael A. Caulfield, Washington State University Vancouver

This is an unabashedly practical guide for the student fact-checker. It supplements generic information literacy with the specific web-based techniques that can get you closer to the truth on the web more quickly. We will show you how to use date filters to find the source of viral content, how to assess the reputation of a scientific journal in less than five seconds, and how to see if a tweet is really from the famous person you think it is or from an impostor. We’ll show you how to find pages that have been deleted, figure out who paid for the web site you’re looking at, and whether the weather portrayed in that viral video actual matches the weather in that location on that day. We’ll show you how to check a Wikipedia page for recent vandalism, and how to search the text of almost any printed book to verify a quote. We’ll teach you to parse URLs and scan search result blurbs so that you are more likely to get to the right result on the first click. And we’ll show you how to avoid baking confirmation bias into your search terms. In other words, we’ll teach you web literacy by showing you the unique opportunities and pitfalls of searching for truth on the web. Crazy, right?

Subject Areas
Communication/Writing, Media

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Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers by Michael A. Caulfield, Washington State University Vancouver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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Reviews (1) Avg: 4.3 / 5

Diane Thompson

Institution:Langara CollegeTitle/Position: InstructorCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text is comprised of four parts, with each part providing students with practical strategies around finding good quality information and the importance of fact checking information in order to evaluate the validity of the source. In recent years, the topic of critical information literacy has emerged and I think perhaps an addition of an additional chapter that addresses positionality and bias would be an important topic to address when we are searching the web and fact checking information. The author touches on this ever so briefly but I think an expanded chapter would be appropriate.

There are a number of organizations that provide a more systematic approach to information literacy, such as the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). The ACRL has published a framework which might be helpful in the fact checking process. Other methods have also been used such as the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) method for evaluating materials and information that are found on the web.

Plus in recent years, there are several really good websites that assist the public in educating them about which sources of information are credible. Websites such as the Journalist's Toolkit does an excellent job of assisting the user to fact check anything from news articles to youtube videos.

The textbook could definitely use a refresh on adding some of these newer tools that are available via the web.

A number of chapters could use more detail. For example, the author gives plenty of examples of searching out various pieces of information but does not give his readers much direction when it comes to the correct search engine or search strategy. He demonstrates several searches but doesn't give any further direction as to which keywords he used and why and what is the most effective way of searching to find good quality information. In one of the chapters, he talks about the Google Reverse Image Search lookup which is a great way to find the source of an image. However, he describes how to do a reverse lookup but doesn't include a screenshot. It would be far more useful to have a visual of the required steps to carrying out a reverse image search. Also, Google is not always the best search engine to use. There are other search engines that can do a very good job depending on the topic. For example, Yandex is an excellent source when it comes to doing a reverse image search, especially for foreign material.

The author does a very good job of including examples of fake images or fake news and has also included several activities where the reader can get some hands-on experience and try out some of the strategies outlined within the text.

Web Literacy..’ is an introductory text that would be suitable for high school or first year College students who are taking a survey or introductory journalism course. It could be adapted to other subjects with some adaptations. It does not provide a comprehensive approach to information literacy, digital citizenship and fact checking.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

The text provides a number of diagrams, screen captures and images to support the concepts that are being presented. The supplementary material that is included is relevant to the chapter and the author would often add additional arrows and other symbols to direct the reader and accentuate the parts of the supplemental material to make his point.
The overall text is accurate and error-free with the exception of a few grammatical errors (i.e. Chapter 20. Stupid Journal Tricks - last sentence).
The Chapter titles are for the most part fairly self explanatory and straight-forward. Chapter 20. Stupid Journal Tricks is the exception in that the title is not as professionally sounding as some of the other chapter titles.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Due to the nature of the subject matter, anything to do with the web requires frequent updates. There would be a few things that the author could do to avoid the appearance of an outdated text. Eliminating examples and searches that include a date would be one strategy where the author could provide generic searches, free of specific date ranges. Within Chapter 17, the author provides a long list of websites for the reader to use as examples of sites that could potentially be evaluated. The problem is that web pages are not static. These URL's may be outdated very quickly, although I'm sure the majority will endure but you just never know. Also, some of the suggested sites in the activity were from 2016 or 2017 when the text was published. These are already outdated and the author should consider updating some of the content with newer examples so that the text remains current.

The author does a good job of providing the reader with a variety of content and topics. Not all the topics relate to politics or are on one topic which makes this text more interesting for the reader as there are examples in there for everyone.





Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Overall the text is well written, although in some spots, the language is a bit informal and inconsistent with the rest of the text. It is easy to read though and would most likely appeal to a younger audience. There are some spots in the text where expressions are used and this may be difficult for English Language Learner's to comprehend.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text is generally consistent throughout. Furthermore, the author has created a well organized text which are divided into parts and chapters. This allows the reader to find specific topics with a well-structured index. In addition, the author has provided activities throughout the text in a consistent manner.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

The text is easy to read and organized into short chapters. Each chapter and its progression is quite logical.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The text has a logical progression and each topic is expanded in a clear fashion based on the methods presented within Chapter 1. The writing is straightforward and easy to read. The assigned images are relevant to the information presented in each chapter.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

The author has included hyperlinks throughout the entire work which makes it easy for the student to skip ahead or go back to a different section. There seems to be a lot of white space within the book but it isn't an unpleasant interface. I would almost want to see this turned into a comprehensive website with all of the fact-checking information included under various headings.

Interface Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

There a few minor grammatical errors (i.e. missing adjectives) but overall, it's free of spelling errors and grammatical problems.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text does include diverse examples that span across different cultures, ethnicities and abilities however it is definitely U.S. centric. Canadian instructors and teachers could adapt some of the activities to include more Canadian examples on politics, etc. Some of the examples were memorable in the recent past (i.e. Senator Schumer, etc. and are well known). There was one mention of black lives matters and no inclusion of indigenous issues or LGBTQ issues.

There didn't seem to be any offensive language or insensitive material within the text.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Since this textbook was published in 2017, I think a quick update on topics, dates and checking all the URL's would be worthwhile at this point. For this to be useful in my course, a lot more material on search methods, critical information literacies and positionalities would be required. I think this would be an excellent introdoctory text for someone in Grade 12 or a student in first year College who is just starting to figure out the complexities of doing research on the web and finding credible information.