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Evaluating Online Sources: 1. Stop



The first move of SIFT is the simplest. STOP reminds you of two things:

  1. When you find online content and start reading --- STOP. Ask yourself if you know and trust the website or source of information. If you don't, use SIFT to learn more about the source you are looking at. Don't read or share it until you know what it is and where it comes from.
  2. When using SIFT to investigate sources, it's easy to go down a rabbit hole and end up feeling overwhelmed. If this happens, STOP to remind yourself of the original goal and re-adjust your fact-checking strategy.

Some Quick Questions To Ask at STOP

  • What type of content is this? (Is it news, opinion, or entertainment? Is it biased?)
  • Who wrote/created and published it? (Who is the author or organization -- are they trustworthy?)
  • Why was it created? (To inform or to pursuade?)
  • When was it published? (Is the information current or outdated?)

If your answer to any of these questions is "I don't know," then, it's time to move onto the next step of SIFT--Investigate.

Student Evaluation Skills

Feeling overwhelmed? You're not alone...

In 2016, a study asked nearly 8,000 students in middle school, high school and college to perform five web evaluation tasks. Here are some of the results:

  • 80% of students couldn't distinguish "sponsored content" (such as advertisements) from news articles on websites.
  • 67% of students failed to recognize potential bias in online information
  • 65% of students took online images (such as memes, videos, and photos) at face value
  • and, almost all struggled to evaluate information on social media

Source: Wineburg, Sam, Sarah McGrew, Joel Breakstone, and Teresa Ortega. Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository, 22 Nov. 2016.


Note: This SIFT method guide was adapted from Michael Caulfield's "Check, Please!" course at The text and media is (for the most part) CC-BY, and free for reuse and revision. The authors ask that people copying this course leave this note intact, so that students and instructors can find their way back to the original (periodically updated) version if necessary. 

The SIFT LibGuide at (Wayne State University Library System), and the OER book Introduction to College Research (Butler, et al.) were also adapted in the creation of this guide.


Prebunking allows students to understand the motivations of those who spread disinformation, and thus, helps them to recognize false and biased content when they encounter it. This can be achieved through online games, such as Bad News, where students become the purveyors of "fake news" themselves (in a controlled manner) in order to understand and neutralize the effects of online disinformation. 

Prebunking uses the social psychology method of "attitude inoculation," which (similar to how vaccines inoculate our bodies against harmful viruses), helps to build up a person's resistance to disinformation. This idea works hand-in-hand with the first step of SIFT, which is STOP. Being mindful of the motives of disinformation creators can help students to stop and think before using or sharing questionable sources.

Recommended articles:

Prebunking Games:

The Miseducation of Dylann Roof Video

This video discusses the dangers of online disinformation and why it's important to STOP and learn about where information comes from.