You don’t have to do a three-hour investigation into a source before you engage with it. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided.
When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. For example, look up the publisher on Wikipedia, to quickly check for credibility.
Watch the short (2:44) video below for a demonstration of this strategy.
Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. People who re-report stories get things wrong by mistake, or, in some cases, they are intentionally misleading. When you trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original source you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented.
Please watch the following video (1:33) that discusses re-reporting vs. original reporting and demonstrates a quick tip: going “upstream” to find the original reporting source.
What if the source you find is low-quality, or you can’t determine if it is reliable or not? Perhaps you don’t really care about the source—you care about the claim that source is making. A common example of this is a meme you might encounter on social media. The random person or group who posted the meme may be less important than the quote or claim the meme makes.
Your best strategy in this case might be to find a better source, to look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on the claim. Rather than relying on the source that you initially found, you can trade up for a higher quality source.
Please watch this video (4:10) that demonstrates this strategy and notes how fact-checkers build a library of trusted sources they can rely on to provide better coverage.