With the swirl of the media frenzy over the spread of Covid-19 it is difficult to get our bearings, to know where to turn for reliable information.

A NIST Teacher asked us this question: “Recently I realized that all the overwhelming information about Covid-19 might be a great opportunity for me to reflect on my skills how to tell fake news. I felt brain crashed most time when being overloaded by the information both in Chinese and in English. Wondering if you have any updated strategies to guide developing the skills on distinguishing fake news from the fact or the truth. I know the CRAP test, but I don’t really think it is helpful to improve the situation when social media are taking the main role to share the information, e.g. WeChat”

Stanford researchers took 10 historians, 10 fact checkers and 25 students to observe how they evaluated live websites and searched for information on social and political issues: You will be surprised to by their results. “Fact checkers read less but learn more – far outpacing historians and top college students”. This is in contrast to the CRAAP (CRAP) test that leads evaluators – students AND experts alike – deeper into one source leaving them prone to making errors in their judgements about the credibility of that source.

READ a SUMMARY HERE or the FULL RESEARCH paper HERE.

“When it comes to judging the credibility of information on the internet, Wineburg said, skepticism may be more useful than knowledge or old-fashioned research skills. “Very intelligent people were bamboozled by the ruses that are part of the toolkit of digital deception today,” he said.”

“The report’s authors identify an approach to online scrutiny that fact checkers used consistently but historians and college students did not: The fact checkers read laterally, meaning they would quickly scan a website in question but then open a series of additional browser tabs, seeking context and perspective from other sites.”

“The fact checkers’ tactic of reading laterally is similar to the idea of “taking bearings,” a concept associated with navigation. Applied to the world of internet research, it involves cautiously approaching the unfamiliar and looking around for a sense of direction. The fact checkers “understood the web as a maze filled with trap doors and blind alleys,” the authors wrote, “where things are not always what they seem.”

While the CRAAP test is not without merit, to be truly effective fact checkers we need to “take bearings”, travel laterally and seek context.