The ‘Sift’ strategy: A four-step method for spotting misinformation

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Pioneered by digital literacy experts, the “Sift” strategy is a technique for spotting fake news and misleading social media posts, says Amanda Ruggeri.

It’s no secret that misinformation is rampant on social media. And it’s even more so in some subjects than others. Research has found, for example, that around two-thirds of the most popular YouTube videos on vaccines contain misinformation. The fall-out can be dire: an uptick in inaccurate anti-vaccination content online correlates with a decline in vaccination coverage, especially among children. That has led to larger outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases, like measles, than have been seen in recent years.

“Misinformation is worse than an epidemic,” Marcia McNutt, president of the US National Academy of Sciences, put it in 2021, implicitly referring to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It spreads at the speed of light throughout the globe and can prove deadly when it reinforces misplaced personal bias against all trustworthy evidence.”

There are many reasons why misinformation travels so quickly – according to some research, even faster than accurate information. One reason is that people are far more likely to share a claim when it confirms their pre-existing beliefs, regardless of its accuracy. This cognitive bias may help explain why even more misinformation seems to be shared by individuals than by bots. One study, for example, found that just 15% of news sharers spread up to 40% of fake news.

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