Lateral readers don’t spend time on the page or site until they’ve first gotten their bearings by looking at what other sites and resources say about the source at which they are looking.—Mike Caulfield, Chapter 16
Move 3: read laterally
Move 2 — going upstream — teaches you how to hold sources accountable by looking up the info they’ve presented to you via links or names of other sources. This is helpful for establishing consensus and, when used in tandem with Move 3 (reading laterally) it can help you evaluate how credible sources are. That said, reading laterally works by going “across many connected sites instead of digging deep into the site at hand.”
What does this mean? Why is it important?
After Trump was elected in November 2016, Saturday Night Live ran this satirical ad of a planned community called “The Bubble”:
The ad poked fun of the privileged position that hipsters, progressives, or white millennials can choose to close themselves off from a version of America that threatens their worldview (they jokingly call it “Brooklyn”). It’s a funny skit because it plays off some of the fundamental trouble with a networked view of reality.
The concept of the “bubble” actually draws from tech guru Eli Pariser, who gave this famous TED Talk on filter bubbles back in 2011 and published a book about them soon after:
Since Pariser’s talk 8 years ago, information has become even more filtered. For example, a 2014 Pew Study found that there are key differences between folks on the left and the right of the political spectrum (see image on the right). While Facebook is an echo chamber for consistent conservatives, consistent liberals are likely to de-friend people who disagree with them politically. Moreover, while consistent liberals have a more diverse media diet, conservatives distrust the news and hence, mostly stick to Fox News for their information. At the same time, Pew found that there’s a huge cohort of people (46% of those) whose politics are more mixed; those folks tend to listen — rather than speak — when it comes to politics online; in other words, they tend to be influenced by their filter bubbles rather than contribute to them.
Assessing media bias with AllSides
In Chapter 17, Caulfield uses Wikipedia’s criteria for defining reliable sources, which he suggests are based on three primary characteristics:
- Process. The source has a method of insuring or verifying that the information it presents is accurate and reliable and it shares it with its audiences.
- Expertise. The source has a trackable, traceable history of knowledge with the subject at hand as an expert, credentialed professional, or via proximity to the information in ways that excludes laypersons.
- Aim. The source has an incentive to present the best possible information to you in the pursuit of truth or for the purpose of establishing consensus.
You can and should use this criteria as you evaluate sources; however, in a world of networked data, some sites help us read laterally by examining the credibility of other news sources for us. AllSides is one such site.
Activity #1: Take a moment to look at AllSides . Then read laterally by looking for information about AllSides from other sources.
To do this, use Caulfield’s suggested search syntax for this: that is, search for the site, but include a minus with a site search [allsides.com -site:allsides.com]. The results will show us sites that mention AllSides without including results from the actual site (AllSides.com).
Who are these sources and what have they said about them? Do you think AllSides is reliable? Add you notes to our Google Doc.
Activity #2: Explore how info travels within political bubbles that can be identified using media bias tools at AllSides. See specific directions and add your notes to our Google Doc.
Homework for next class
[Note: it might be a really good idea to re-read/study Chapters 16-17 of Caulfield on reading laterally before doing this.]
Factcheck #3: Read laterally by “looking at what other sites and resources say about [a] source.” To practice this, check the credibility of one of the sources on the far left (blue) or far right (red) on AllSides.
When you search, remember to use Caulfield’s search syntax. For example: [FoxNews.com -site:foxnews.com]. After exploring sites you trust that assess your chosen source, decide if you agree or disagree with the rating on AllSides.
Then, as you write your post, discuss what these other sources say about it. You might start with Wikipedia to find out. And as you look at what other sites or resources say about these sites, use their criteria (which Caulfield outlines in Chapter 17) — process, expertise, and aim — to guide your observations.
What do other sources say, for example, about Breitbart’s research process or how they correct mistakes? What do other sources say about the kinds of writers Alternet use for their stories? Are they experts? Do they interview experts? What incentive does The Daily Caller have to get things right in their broadcasts? Who do they cater to? Feel free to look at your chosen site, but what you’re really doing is investigating and assessing their trustworthiness by going elsewhere on the web. Be sure to conclude by noting whether you agree or disagree with community feedback rating on AllSides.
Finally, read Chapters 20-25 of Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, which tells you how to read laterally about recent studies.