12 Four Moves

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What people need most when confronted with a claim that may not be 100% true are things they can do to get closer to the truth. They need something called “moves.”

Moves accomplish intermediate goals in the fact-checking process.  They are associated with specific tactics. Here are the four moves this guide will hinge on:

  1. Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research. Check out Mike Caulfield’s “Investigate the Source” video for an example of this step.
  2. Go upstream to the source: Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information. Check out Mike Caulfield’s “Find the Original Source” video for an example of this step.
  3. Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network. Check out Mike Caulfield’s “Look for Trusted Work” video for an example of this step.
  4. Circle back: If you get lost, hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing cyclone, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

In general, you can try these moves in sequence. If you find success at any stage, your work might be done.

When you encounter a claim you want to check, your first move might be to see if sites like Politifact, or Snopes, or even Wikipedia have researched the claim (Check for previous work).

If you can’t find previous work on the claim, start by trying to trace the claim to the source. If the claim is about research, try to find the journal the research appeared in. You can do this by looking for citations or places in the text that mention name of researchers or publication names. If the claim is about an event, try to find the news publication in which it was originally reported (Go upstream).

Maybe you get lucky and the source is something known to be reputable, such as the journal Science or the newspaper the New York Times. Again, if so, you can stop there. If not, you’re going to need to find out more about the source you are using and asking whether it is trustworthy (Read laterally).

And if at any point you fail–if the source you find is not trustworthy, complex questions emerge, or the claim turns out to have multiple sub-claims–then you circle back, and start a new process. Rewrite the claim. Try a new search of fact-checking sites, or find an alternate source (Circle back).

Concept Review Exercise: Fact-Checking Moves


This section includes material from the source chapter, Four Moves by Mike Caulfield and Kristin Conlin, found in Strategic Information Literacy, licensed as CC BY 4.0, as well as the following:

Photo by Raychel Sanner on Unsplash.

Online Verification Skills – Video 2: Investigate the Source.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 29 June 2018.

Online Verification Skills – Video 3: Find the Original Source.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 25 May 2018.

Online Verification Skills – Video 4: Look for Trusted Work.” YouTube, uploaded by CTRL-F, 25 May 2018.

Original material by book author Calantha Tillotson.


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Four Moves by Adam Brennan; Jamie Holmes; Calantha Tillotson; and Sarah Burkhead Whittle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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