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COM 125 (Campus) Dissecting Pop Culture

This guide is a companion to the campus course COM-125

Evaluating Media Messages

It is essential to be able to think intentionally and critically about media messages you see or experience so that you do not become a victim of a scam or propaganda, nor do you perpetuate such mis- or disinformation.

This page will share some games you can play to learn about the types of disinformation practiced in media today as well as learn some skills for foiling attempts at manipulating your thinking as well as evaluating sources for inclusion in your work.

S.I.F.T. Information Before You Use It!

S.I.F.T. with what each letter stands for: Stop; Investigate the Source; Find Better Coverage; Trace claims, quotes & media back to their original context


SIFT (from Mike Caulfield This link opens in a new window) is a helpful acronym for initially (and quickly) evaluating online source credibility, and stands for:

  • STOP. Pause and ask yourself if you recognize the information source and if you know anything about the website or the claim's reputation, like we learned above playing Factitious! If not, use the four moves (below) to learn more, or as many as you need to just to decide if you should use the source for your purpose (Source for a paper? To like or share on social media? To share with family or friends?). 
  • INVESTIGATE the source.
    Take a minute to identify where this information comes from and to consider the creator's expertise and agenda. Is this source worth your time? Look at what others have said about the source to help with you these questions. (See the "Four Moves" below for more on investigating sources.)
    (For example, an oil company may not be the best source for information about electric cars. A medical research study funded by a pharmaceutical company might be suspect.)
  • FIND trusted coverage.
    Sometimes it's less important to know about the source and more important to assess their claim. Look for multiple credible sources and compare information across them to see whether there is agreement about the claim being made.
  • TRACE claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
    Sometimes online information has been removed from its original context (for example, some elements from a news story will reported on in another online publication or an image is pulled from one place and labeled or relabeled in another location such as Twitter or Instagram). If needed trace the information back to the original source understand it accurately. 

Modified from Mike Caulfield's SIFT (Four Moves) This link opens in a new window, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License This link opens in a new window.

Later, when you determine that the site is worth your time, you can analyze the source's content more carefully.

"The Four Moves"

There are numerous ways to "SIFT" (as described above). These "four moves" from Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers This link opens in a new window by Mike Caulfield will help you "SIFT." 

When you first come across a web source, do a quick initial assessment, much like a fact-checker does. Fact-checkers don't spend too much time on a website; instead, they quickly leave that site to see what others have said about the site.

  1. "Check for previous work": Has someone already fact-checked the claim or analyzed the research?
    (Search the Internet for other coverage on the claim. Consider where that coverage comes from.)
  2. "Go upstream to the source": Is this the original source of the information, or is this a re-publication or an interpretation of previously published work? Are you examining the original source? If not, trace back to it.
  3. "Read laterally": What are others saying about the original source and about its claim? Make sure those "others" you use to evaluate the original source or the claim it is making are authentic using some of the strategies learned above. Compare their information (this will often involve having multiple tabs open on your computer at once!)
  4. "Circle back": Not finding out what you need? Which other search terms or strategies might lead you to the information that you need? 

(Adapted from “Four Moves,” Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers This link opens in a new window, by Mike Caulfield)

This section was adapted from the Los Angeles Valley College Library LibGuide Information Evaluation: What is the SIFT Method This link opens in a new window and the Rowan University LibGuide Evaluating Online Sources: A Toolkit. This link opens in a new window

Media Literacy Games

Evaluating Website Content & Social Media 

If you like playing games to hone your web evaluation skills, try some of these! Just click on the image to get started.

The words "Spot the" in purple followed by "Troll" beneath in orange letters with the "o" like a half-opened door with purple background and green monster face showing.

Spot the Troll, created by Clemson University's Media Forensics Hub, asks YOU to examine images of real social media content and decide whether it's from a legitimate account or an internet troll.



The phrase "Factitious 2020" in white font on aqua background.

Click on the image above and play Factitious to see how skilled you are at recognizing dubious information while learning techniques to evaluate news sources on the web. Keep track of strategies you learn as you play.

Green letters saying "Choose Your Own Fake News"

Choose Your Own Fake News is an interactive "choose your own adventure" game. Play the game as Flora, Jo or Aida from East Africa, and navigate the world of disinformation and misinformation through the choices you make. Scrutinize news and information about job opportunities, vaccines and upcoming elections to make the right choices!


Picture of male cartoon face in blue shirt & tie with red letters next to him that say "Cranky Uncle."


The Cranky Uncle game uses cartoons and critical thinking to fight misinformation. The game was developed by George Mason University scientist John Cook, in collaboration with creative agency Autonomy This link opens in a new window. The game is now available for free on iPhone and Android. In the Cranky Uncle game, players are mentored by a cartoon personification of climate science denial. Cranky Uncle explains 14 techniques of science denial, from fake experts to cherry picking and a variety of different logical fallacies This link opens in a new window.

Red capital letters that say BAD on the top line of a square and left justified, NE on the second line to right of center, and WS on the third line right justified.

In Bad News, you take on the role of fake news-monger. Drop all pretense of ethics and choose a path that builds your persona as an unscrupulous media magnate. But keep an eye on your ‘followers’ and ‘credibility’ meters. Your task is to get as many followers as you can while slowly building up fake credibility as a news site. But watch out: you lose if you tell obvious lies or disappoint your supporters!

Crystal ball shaped image with words "Skeptical Searcher Shapiro Library SNHU" in the circle.

Do you know about source evaluation? Can you spot bias? Do you know how to investigate sources? Are you a pro at finding other evidence and tracing claims? Prove it today to earn the Shapiro Library Skeptical Searcher Badge! Click on the icon above to get started.

Fake or Real?

Logo that says "The Guardian"

The all-new NewsWise headlines quiz!

Evaluating Images & Videos Online

Blue box with white letters saying "Verifying content online challenge" and a red circle logo in the upper left corner with white letters next to it saying "First Draft."

This challenge was created by First Draft This link opens in a new window, an organization whose mission is to protect communities from harmful misinformation. They work to empower society with the knowledge, understanding, and tools needed to outsmart false and misleading information. This interactive exercise will help you verify images, places and accounts that you find online. One of the quickest ways to verify content online is by using reverse image search, and a bit of geolocation. We'll need Google Images and Google Maps to complete this challenge, so be sure to have those open and ready in another tab. (This challenge is best on a desktop/laptop) Click on the image above to get started, and keep track of the strategies you learn along the way.

Blue rectangle with white words in center saying "Observation online challenge" and "First Draft" in upper left corner next to red circle logo.

If you like geolocation of images, try this challenge by clicking on the image above.

Searching multiple engines:

  • Install RevEye Chrome Plugin This link opens in a new window
  • Once the plugin is installed, click on the image to open it in your browser, then right click on it
  • Send to all search engines (Google, TinEye, Yandex, etc.) which open in separate tabs
  • Scan the results to see if the image has been published before

Gray and blue streaked background with white chalkboard letters saying "Which Face Is Real? Seeing through the illusions of a fabricated world."

Developed by the creators of the Calling Bullshit Project This link opens in a new window, this activity aims to "make you aware of the ease with which digital identities can be faked, and to help you spot these fakes at a single glance." Click on the image above to read about the game, and then click "Play" in the upper right corner to begin.

Black background with white letters saying "Identifying and Tackling Manipulated Media."

This course by Reuters News Agency titled "Identifying and Tackling Manipulated Media" has three "chapters": Manipulated Media; Identifying Deepfakes; and Tackling Manipulated Media. Each "chapter" has a "Test Yourself" exercise. Click on the image above to get started.


Media Bias Chart

Below is a media bias chart produced by a nonpartisan group, Ad Fontes Media This link opens in a new window. Notice the designations along the top as the chart categorizes media sources from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Notice the criteria down the side from "Original fact reporting" to "Contains inaccurate, fabricated info." When you find an article you are unsure about, check out the source it came from using the Media Bias Chart. This would correspond with the second step of the S.I.F.T. evaluation method: Investigate the source.

media bias chart produced by a nonpartisan group, Ad Fontes Media

For the most recent version of the Media Bias Chart (Version 6.0), visit Ad Fontes Media's Interactive Chart This link opens in a new window.