Digital boosting toolbox at the Long Night of the Sciences 2022 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Berlin)
Lateral reading: Where it came from
Lateral reading is part of the Civic Online Reasoning curriculum. It was developed by researchers at the Stanford History Education Group, who conducted a study with Stanford undergraduates, university professors, and professional fact-checkers to determine the best strategies for evaluating the credibility of information online. Undergraduates and professors stayed on an unfamiliar website to decide whether it was credible. Fact-checkers, however, opened new tabs and verified the website’s credibility by checking other, trusted sites. The professional fact-checkers knew that the best way to learn about a website is though lateral reading: leaving a site to see what other sources say about it.
How does lateral reading work?
Lateral reading begins with a key insight: You can’t tell how trustworthy a website or a social media post is just by looking at it. Without relevant background knowledge or reliable indicators of trustworthiness, the best strategy for deciding whether you can believe a source is to look up the author/organization and the claims elsewhere (e.g., using search engines, Wikipedia).
Three questions are at the heart of the Civic Online Reasoning curriculum:
- Who is behind this information?
- What is the evidence?
- What do other sources say?
These three key questions can be represented in a simple fast-and-frugal decision tree “Can you trust this information?” and used as a simple tool for deciding whether or not to trust a piece of information encountered online
Key links and references
Brodsky, J. E., Brooks, P. J., Scimeca, D., Todorova, R., Galati, P. Batson, M., Grosso, R., Matthews, M., Miller, V., & Caulfield, M. (2021). Improving college students’ fact-checking strategies through lateral reading instruction in a general education civics course. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 6, Article 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-021-00291-4
Standford History Education Group. (n.d.). Online Reasoning. https://cor.stanford.edu
Wineburg, S., Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M. D., & Ortega, T. (2022). Lateral reading on the open Internet: A district-wide field study in high school government classes. Journal of Educational Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000740
Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2019). Lateral reading and the nature of expertise: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Teachers College Record, 121(11). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1262001