Off-Page and Off-Site Searching

Bram's picture

Although what you see on a page can tell you a lot about whether to trust it, well-crafted "fake news" (web pages designed to look authentic) and other poor choices for information may require some tab-opening: looking at other pages and sites.  

Internal to the website you are on, other pages will tell you about that site's mission and who maintains it (the "About Us" page). External to the site, there are three categories to explore:

  1. Upstream Pages:  Your article should make verifiable claims, citing sources for them.  Where did the information come from, and do you consider those sources reliable and appropriate? 
  2. Downstream Pages: If anyone else values your article, they will link to it. What other web pages link to this page, or incorporate its content -- and what does that tell you about it?
  3. Lateral Pages:  Other websites can inform you about the topic you are reading about (to help you understand what to make of the article) and about the trustworthiness of the website and author. What other sources can help us understand this content, this article, this author, and this website?

From Mike Caulfield:

Lateral readers ... [get]  their bearings by looking at what other sites and resources say about the source at which they are looking.

For example, when presented with new site that needs to be evaluated, professional fact-checkers don't spend much time on the site itself. Instead they get off the page and see what other authorities have said about the site. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get better picture of this site where they've landed.

Many of the questions they ask are the same as the vertical readers scrolling up and down the pages of the source they are evaluating. But unlike those readers, they realize that the truth is more likely to be found in the network of links to (and commentaries about) the site than in the site itself.

Only when they've gotten their bearings from the rest of the network do they re-engage with the content, with better understanding as to whether to trust the facts and analysis presented to them.

You can tell lateral reader at work: They have multiple tabs open, they perform web searches on the author of the piece and the ownership of the site. They look at pages linking to the site, not just pages coming from it.

- from Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Mike Caulfield,

Parent Chapter: 

Web Media Literacy