Citizen Fact-Checking In the Digital Age

Concurrent Session 5
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Brief Abstract

Many believe teaching students online information literacy could provide a solution to recent issues around truth and verification. But what should that instruction look like? What uniquely modern problems must it confront? Pulling insights from a variety of disciplines and drawing on experience from a current pilot of a new multi-campus digital literacy initiative, digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield will discuss some unique features of our current moment and demonstrate new and effective approaches to misinformation suited to our digital age.

Extended Abstract

"It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments."  — Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics (1911)

Traditional approaches to online information literacy have often focused on long analysis, or the careful weighting of multiple competing factors. Critical thinking advocates have argued the key to proficiency is deeper reading, the relentless interrogation of the text itself. Methods such as CRAAP and RADCAB have asked students to apply long lists of criteria to the evaluation of pages (Is it a dot org or dot com? What is the tone like? Are there footnotes?), which they then roll up into a single balanced assessment.

How have these methods fared in the real-world environment of the web? Not well. In fact, such methods of analysis may actually hinder the student or citizen who needs to quickly sort information, to triage it, to quickly assess what is worthy of one's attention vs. what is junk or disinformation. They are methods that often work well in environments of information scarcity. But in our current environment, where information is abundant and attention is scarce, they fail to solve the real problems citizens encounter on the web, often with disastrous results.

In the Digital Polarization Initiative, we started from a simple question: what do effective readers of the web *do*? What are the quick actions that fact-checkers use to figure out whether to trust an article? That Wikipedians use to assess a citation? What are the techniques that the more accomplished readers of the web use that the less accomplished don't?

Not what they think about. Not what they know. What do they *do*, in the first 10 seconds of encountering information on the web?

We identified a small set of digital habits that seemed protective against disinformation, then taught them to students across 10 institutions in our pilot. And we taught them in the classroom through short authentic exercises that allowed them to apply them in the digital context in which they will be applied.

In this session we'll talk about the theory and research that informed our unique approach to digital literacy, and share the results of our nationwide pilot. If time permits, we might even model an activity or two. Our hope is to change how you think about digital literacy in general, and provide you with new techniques you can share with your faculty and students.

And maybe save the world a little bit too, one habit at a time.