Q: What emotion goes viral the fastest?
A: Researchers at Beihang University in China determined that while joy moves faster than sadness or disgust, nothing beats the speed of rage on the internet. Their findings were reported in a 2014 Smithsonian article which is referenced in the free online book, “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.”
If you’re feeling lost in a sea of emotional internet claims, there’s help
by Erin Kolb
I read something of a different sort this last week. It’s a free online textbook titled “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers” by Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University, Vancouver. Dubbed an “instruction manual to reading on the modern internet,” it is a practical guide for student fact checkers, but the title page adds, “… and other people who care about facts.”
I like to consider myself one of those people, so I wanted to give this book a whirl.
Caulfield outlines “four moves and a habit” that are necessary for fact-checking.
- Check for previous work
- Go upstream to the source
- Read laterally
- Circle back
The habit: Check your emotions.
These strategies come into play when you meet with a claim (think tweet, headline, photograph) that may not be 100 percent true.
“When you feel strong emotion – happiness, anger, pride, vindication – and that emotion pushes you to share a ‘fact’ with others,” Caulfield exclaims, “STOP.”
Has someone else already fact-checked the claim? Who is the original source of the information?
“Most web content is not original,” Caulfield writes.
To read laterally means to read what other people say about the claim. If you end up lost or down in a rabbit hole (which is easy to do on the internet, trust me), circle back and start again. You’re likely to make better search decisions with the information you’ve gained from your initial search.
Filled with visual examples and online activities, reading this book was like going on an information-gathering scavenger hunt. The payoff? I’m paying closer attention to what I read online, striving to be critical and informed, and ultimately practicing good internet citizenship. If that sounds like something that may interest you too, visit webliteracy.pressbooks.com and let me know what you think.
Kolb is the adult services librarian at Asotin County Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.