This week we are looking at what to do about polarization and fake news in EngageMOOC. Our assignment this week was to look at Mike Caulfield’s Four Moves and use it to evaluate a web source. The Four Moves idea is a response to what Mike sees as the inadequacies of other information literacy checklists like CRAAP. Admittedly, these checklists do get long and cumbersome. For many people, this is not a problem. For others, it is. But in the end, my concern is that neither one will help with polarization.

So I am going through the Four Moves idea with common arguments that  I often see getting polarized online. To be honest, I really like the Four Moves idea… under certain conditions. I have not read through the longer book that is linked in the post above, so maybe all of this is addressed in there. For now, I will just focus on the blog post. The first step of the Four Moves process (which is not a check list… even though it technically is :) ) starts off with this:

Check for previous work. Most stories you see on the web have been either covered, verified, or debunked by more reputable sources. Find a reputable source that has done your work for you. If you can find that, maybe your work is done.

So this is great when dealing with a really simple new piece of news, like the example given of “Jennifer Lawrence died.” But the problem quickly becomes: what counts as a “reputable” source? Things like the CRAAP method are supposed to be about helping people determine what is reputable, so I am a bit confused as how the Four Moves would replace CRAAP when it technically starts after CRAAP is finished (yeah, I am giggling at that too). In today’s polarized climate, people look to very bad websites like Brietbart, The Blaze, and dozens of other extreme left and right organizations as “reputable.” Millions see these websites as “a reputable source that done your work for you”… even though they aren’t. Then there is the idea of being “debunked.” Of course someone that is anti-vaccination could look at Mercola as “reputable”… but that has been debunked, right? Yes, it has. But then the anti-vaxxers debunked that debunkation (is that a word?). Then the pro-vaccination side debunked that debunkination… and it has been going back and forth for a long time. Years. Decades. There are so many competing debunkinations that it is impossible to keep up with at times. The problem is, everything from the flat earth theory to the alt right to the anti-vaccination movement to the anti-gun control crowd have created an extensive network of websites that cite their own network of research, debunkinators, and reliable/credible sources. The problem is no longer “is this a reputable source” but “who do you say the reputable sites are out of all the competing ecosystems of so-called reputable sources”?

Go upstream to the source. If you can’t find a rock-solid source that has done your verification and context-building for you, follow the story or claim you are looking at to it’s origin. Most stories shared with you on the web are recoverage of some other reporting or research. Follow the links and get to the source. If you recognize the source as credible, your work may be done.

This flows from the same problem as the one above – going back to the source on most of the issues that polarize us will just end up at competing websites that all claim credibility and research. Even if you pull out Snopes or Politifact or Wikipedia, the response will often be “oh, those are leftist sites and I want something unbiased like Fox News.”

Read laterally. If you have traced the claim or story or research to the source and you don’t recognize it, you will need check the credibility of the source by looking at available information on its reliability, expertise, and agenda.

Looking at available information on reliability, expertise, and agenda is technically part of CRAAP… but again, some people see all of this through different lenses. When I look at Mercola’s website, I see an obvious agenda from people without expertise and lacking in reliability. But the anti-vaxxers sees a website that is full of reliability and expertise, with “no agenda but the truth.” The things is, if you see a new article questioning the safety of the flu vaccine, you can go through each of these steps and end up on Mercola and deem the flu vaccine as deadly.

Circle back. A reminder that even when we follow this process sometimes we find ourselves going down dead ends. If a certain route of inquiry is not panning out, try going back to the beginning with what you know now. Choose different search terms and try again.

Selecting different search terms on Google will pretty much give you similar results, because Google looks past those terms and gives you what it thinks you want based on past searches. Of course, using CRAAP you wouldn’t make that mistake… but that doesn’t automatically make CRAPP better.

(hopefully you are giggling as much as I am every time I use CRAAP. Oh wait…)

So the thing is, I really like Four Moves in place of CRAAP and other methods… when dealing with someone that would have the same version of “reliable” and “credible” that I do. And I am sure that someone with a very extreme conservative outlook on life would say the same thing… and would not trust me because of my views on what sites are “reliable” (that is actually not hypothetical – my name was released on the “list of worst pro-vaccination trolls” years ago because I have butted heads with so many anti-vaxxers online through the years). Polarization will continue as long as we can’t deal with the core issue that the different sides have a fundamentally different understanding of what counts as “credible, reliable sources.”

3 thoughts on “Getting Lost in the Four Moves of #EngageMOOC

  1. This post really resonated with me because I just read Mike’s post and commented on that the first three moves of the four moves are all about finding a reputable source…but that is one of the main, basic questions in the first place. And it’s part of what CRAAP and ESCAPE are meant to help you do. So I agree that the four moves seem to start after CRAAP ends (and yes, I’m giggling too).

    One thing that really did stand out to me from these moves, though, is that it’s helpful to have something like a decision tree with simple steps, rather than a gigantic list of questions and answers that you then have to somehow miraculously put together into an answer about the validity of the information. If you can break that down into smaller decisions, with each one being fairly simple, that’s a big improvement over looking at a bunch of answers you’ve written down and hoping some answer rises magically from them that isn’t based on your preconceived notions or biases.

    But I agree…there needs to be more about the credibility of the source aspect of these moves. And like you, I haven’t read the longer book so maybe there’s more there!

  2. So someone had asked me in the class if I had a response to what Mike said in the Hangout video. This was my basic response:

    “I think Mike and I have very different experiences. Here in the South at least, there are millions and millions of people that Mike writes off as too radicalized because they have already gone down that road. I think he vastly under-estimates how many people have already gone that way. If the mass were still in the middle, they we wouldn’t be polarized, and what is the point of this class? Its not that people decide they like Newswire even though they know it is fake, it is people think Brietbart, The Blaze, etc are the real reliable sources, and that everything else that says differently is the fake, unreliable source.

    Also, I have seen many checklists where you can skip around, so I don’t agree that every checklist is something you HAVE to do from start to finish.”

    And a bit more on this Twitter thread:

    Another thing I worry about is the danger – slight danger but still real – of the first move actually pushing more people towards radicalization. Lot of people I went to high school with would now be labeled alt-right. They really haven’t changed their beliefs since then – it is just that we have more terms to describe various views, and social media has made it so that we can’t ignore people’s views. But I remember in high school that these were the people that always asked why we should trust media stories. The problem with CRAAP and Four Moves in that area is we are just told to trust reliable websites because others have said so. There are many people that are just suspicious of that mind set. They don’t want to trust just because someone else said so. Of course, we know that if you really look at the journalistic process, there are imperfections, but it gives you a good idea of why some sources are reliable and others aren’t. But it takes a good entire semester to get there, and we rarely teach that. But if we just start with “see what others say and listen to them”… do we run the risk of losing the naturally suspicious?

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