My Webinars with Emplify and Button

Over the last few months, I’ve had the extraordinary experience of developing and leading two online webinars with the employees of the Fishers, Indiana-based company Emplify and the NYC-based startup Button. Back in grad school, when I was reading a steady diet of Marx and Marc Bousquet on the corporatization of higher ed, I never dreamt that I’d ever be invited to speak to corporations about misinformation, the super-abundance of information in the digital age, and the importance necessity of developing a daily information habit.

Well, here we are.

Back in March, I was invited to speak to Emplify by Gabby Popowitz, Director of People Ops at that company, former colleague in the School of Business at IU Kokomo, and all-around top-notch human being. More recently, and as a result of the first invitation (I believe), I was asked to speak to the employees of Button by Lauren Zimmerman, another great person and the Director of People Ops for her company. (“People Ops,” I have come to understand, is what we used to call “HR,” which we used to call “the personnel department” back in the bad old days. Before that employers would simply beat people with a stick to get them to work.)

Both of these experiences have been a real treat. It’s always nice to test out ideas and present them to new audiences. Over the course of our short, 30- to 40-minute interactive discussions, I introduced these folks to the concept of information plenitude, the disorienting effects of living in the post-digital era, and some basic fact-checking habits like Mike Caulfield’s SIFT method; we also talked more generally about the importance of building a daily digital media habit to combat the sheer abundance of problematic information we find on the web and social media. I also take some time to allow participants to practice the SIFT moves on their own using recent examples of problematic information online.

I generally use a relatively simple and straightforward handout that suffices as both an overview of the discussion and provides some take-home resources for folks to explore more fully on their own:

2020 Vision: Practicing a Daily (Digital) Media Habit

Lunch ‘n’ Learn with Button / August 11, 2020 / Paul Cook, IU Kokomo

Thanks for inviting me to speak with you all! I would also like to thank Lauren Zimmerman for putting this together. This afternoon, I will briefly discuss the following:

  • The super-abundance of information on the modern web (or “information plenitude”) and how this pertains to the precipitous rise of problematic information in the wake of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Some basic terminology: disinformation, misinformation, click-bait, data-dredging (or “p-hacking”), and improper framing of information; 
  • SIFT and other web-native techniques for fact-checking and lateral reading (we will also take some time to practice the SIFT “moves” together!); and
  • The importance necessity of practicing a daily media habit, developing a short list of trusted sources, and practicing basic mindfulness to reflect on your information diet and promote good information hygiene.


Developed by Mike Caulfield, “SIFT” is an acronym that reminds us to

These four simple “moves”—and a handful of web-based shortcuts, several of which you probably already know—can rapidly improve digital information literacy and help curb the spread of false, misleading, manipulated, and improperly-framed information.  

  • If a piece of content makes you feel strong emotions, surprises you, makes you feel vindication, or creates an irresistibly strong desire to share it: Stop. Use that feeling as a reminder that you need to check it. Problematic information often uses emotional resonance as its first line of attack.
  • Then Investigate the Source. See if the sharing source has enough credibility of their own to be worth your attention or a share on social media. You can hover over with your cursor as a first check, and follow up with a URL + Wikipedia search. Also: reverse Google image search.
  • If the reputation of the source is not up to the size of the claim, or if you simply want to see whether more trusted outlets are reporting on a particular claim or story, Find Better Coverage using a Google news search (for recent news). Watch your search terms, and keep an eye out for fact-checks in the results. If the claim is particularly contentious or breaking, you may want to wait until multiple sources report it. This is also known as “trading up” for better coverage.
  • Even when you recognize a shared source, Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context to make sure the way the story, photo, or video is framed is correct. Use Control-F (or its equivalent if on a Mac or mobile) to see if terms in the summary appear in the article. Check the date to make sure that the story is truly related to current events and that the information is up-to-date.


Fig. 1 Jody Zellman, The New Yorker, Aug. 2020


Web Resources for Further Study

Sifting Through the Coronavirus Pandemic  (Washington State University Vancouver)

The resources on this site use the SIFT method of digital fact-checking to engage students in parsing out fact, fiction, and farce in the face of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. You can use these resources as a standalone introduction to SIFT or as a supplement to other materials. These are also a great start to examining the epistemological issues related to the pandemic.

“A Handy List of Reputable Coronavirus Information” (Melissa Ryan,

This curated post includes links to sources of reputable information like the CDC and the WHO as well as a smattering of resources for detecting and debunking misinformation online, such as Media Matters, FirstDraft Resources for Reporters, and more.

Data & Society is an independent nonprofit research organization that produces original research, reports, and teaching-related documents to support evidence-based public debate about emerging technology.

Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life (Rand Corporation, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich)

This report from Rand explores the causes and consequences of what the authors term “Truth Decay” and how they are interrelated, and examines past eras of US history to identify evidence of Truth Decay’s four trends and observe similarities with and differences from the current period. It also outlines a research agenda, a strategy for investigating the causes of Truth Decay and determining what can be done to address its causes and consequences.

The granddaddy of urban legend fact-checking sites, Snopes has been ferreting out problematic information on the web and doing deep-dive research into urban legends since 1994.

Recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, this fact-checking website uses its patented “Truth-o-Meter” to rate the accuracy of statements made by politicians and other public figures as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, or “pants on fire!”

Published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, this nonpartisan, nonprofit fact-checking website monitors the accuracy of statements made by politicians and others in positions of power.

Media Matters for America 

Launched in 2004, this nonprofit site is openly liberal in its political bias and its commitment to fact-checking “conservative misinformation” (“About”).

News Busters 

This site is a project of the conservative-leaning Media Research Center. Their mission is “to provide immediate exposure of national media bias, unfairness, inaccuracy, and occasional idiocy” (“”).

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