With public trust in government and other institutions both near all time lows, can we expect people to put their trust in yet another group: fact checkers? Many have pointed to fact checking tools and services as part of the solution to the misinformation pandemic. But what happens when fact checking itself becomes polarized and politicized? Are we just recreating echo-chambers with partisan fact-checking services?
While I personally think that there are several useful and unbiased tools for fact checking, it can be dangerous to rely on a single source to filter the internet for you. These tools can absolutely save you time and energy, but if you are not comfortable relying on an outside source to fact check for you, you can use the same process that professional fact checkers use: Lateral Reading.
Lateral Reading is a strategic way to contextualize and verify information that you find online. The basic idea (which takes time and practice to master) is to open up new tabs on your web-browser and read “laterally” or side-to-side across the internet. Start searching the open web and ask yourself: Who or what is behind the information you are seeing? What are others saying about this news source or author or institution? What are others saying about this story? Can you find the original story or trace data/claims back to the original source? Once you are armed with this additional information and context, you can start to decide how seriously to take the information you are reading.
While there is no simple solution to combatting the spread of misinformation – there are steps that you can take to be a more informed consumer. Ultimately, each of us has the responsibility to decide who to trust online.