Web Literacy

Web literacy is often the most valuable skill when recognizing fake news. Since most of fake news is easily propagated across the internet, being web savvy is the best way to identify and avoid misinformation to guard ourselves versus influence.

Since web literacy encompasses a wide range of knowledge, we’ll distill some practical strategies we can follow when diagnosing information. These tactics we’ll study come from Mike Caulfield from his Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers  book. So let’s dive right into the his four web literacy moves.

The 4 Moves

Four Moves
What people need most when confronted with a claim which may not be 100% true is things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something we have decided to call moves.

Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process.  They are associated with specific tactics. Here are our moves:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.
  • Circle back: If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

In general, you can try these moves in sequence, and at each stage if you find success your work might be done.

When you first see a claim you want to check, your first move might be to look to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim. (Check for previous work).

If you can’t find previous work on the claim, the real work begins. It starts by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, can you find the journal it appeared in? If the claim is about an event, can you find the news publication in which it was originally reported? (Go upstream).

Maybe you get lucky, and the source is something known to be reputable — some recognizable source such as the journal Science, or the newspaper The New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to read laterally, finding out more about this source you’ve ended up at. Is it trustworthy? (Read laterally).

And if at any point you fail — if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims — then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source. (Circle back).

Excerpt from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

Quick Fact-Checking (Part 2)

We’ll dive into some of the specifics of the  Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers work from Mike Caulfield. In particular, we’ll:

  1. Investigate previous work by constructing search queries with duckduckgo.com using the “[search query] site:snopes.com (etc.)” syntax.
  2. Go upstream with articles (https://goo.gl/hUZxdg), identify sponsored content, track down original viral images (https://goo.gl/WFy8KM), and explore upcoming tools to identify clickbait like baitbuster.
  3. Read laterally to verify sites and sources before devoting the time energy to reading them. First, we’ll investigate the websites themselves by checking their owners with whois, constructing omitted search queries with google.com using the “baltimoregazette.com -site:baltimoregazette.com” syntax, and investigating records on wikipedia. Second, we’ll research the author of the information by searching them on Google Scholar, Twitter, and plain old Google. Finally, there are some advanced techniques we’ll touch on involving resources like the Wayback Machine and the Internet Archive.
  4. Circle back to the original source if we get lost or hit a dead end.

The goal of this research is to do it quickly and accurately so we can get into a habit of being critical of information we receive.

Final Steps

Based on your interests, continue to explore the readings, videos, activities, and curriculum listed below. Finally, you’re invited to reflect on all of these resources and this week’s topic using the form located at the bottom of this page.

Explore More

Web Fact-Checking Tools

For the Classroom


Digital & Media Literacy


* Required
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    This is a required question
    Never submit passwords through Google Forms.