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Lateral Reading

How to check the information you are reading? This is an interesting video about the information we read and how important it is to think about who is behind this information.




hi I’m John Green welcome to crash

course navigating digital information so

today we are going to learn one of the

most important skills of 21st century

life and I don’t say that lightly so you

know my name and that this is an episode

of crash course but there’s a lot that

doesn’t tell you it doesn’t tell you for

instance that crash course is a product

of complexly a company owned by my

brother and me and funded partly by

support from patreon partly by

advertisers and partly by grants from


it also doesn’t tell you who works on

the show a large team of producers

editors writers illustrators and more

you’re looking at some of them now and

as I mentioned in previous videos the

folks at media-wise also helped us make

this video media wise was created with

support from Google and it’s a

collaboration between the pointer

Institute a nonprofit journalism school

and the Stanford history education group

a university based research group all of

this is helpful to know when navigating

digital information because

understanding where information came

from helps us to understand if it’s

reliable how do you even find a source

in a world where no one has to cite

sources and what citations do exist are

perpetually disappearing well to quote

my friends rhett and Link let’s talk

about that


so information does not just appear even

if it’s automated or driven by an

algorithm a Twitter bot for instance is

not a person but they were created by

people as are the algorithms that

declare what topics are trending an

online discourse so all information is

produced by someone but it’s also

produced for a purpose like newspapers

are created by journalists and editors

to inform the public about things

editors think they should know but of

course they also have to sell

subscriptions and advertisements to

support themselves advertisements are

created by companies to convince

customers to buy or use their products

movies and books are created to

entertain or to stir up important

cultural conversations or both the lines

between these motives of course are not

always clear advertisements often feel

informative and sometimes seek to be

informative like those medicine ads that

list 143 side-effects in 10 seconds

because they are required to do so by

law and while journalism should seek to

inform journalists are humans and they

make choices both about what to cover

and how to cover it choices we may not

agree with movies and books may exist to

entertain and enlighten but they can

also exist to sell things it’s no

coincidence for instance that everyone

in the Fault in Our Stars movie uses

Apple products so the first question we

have to ask ourselves is who made this

and why and we mustn’t oversimplify

those answers like I wrote The Fault in

Our Stars because I was inspired by my

friend Esther and also because I wanted

to explore whether a short life can be a

full life and also because I thought

people would read it and pay for it the

book was also a product of my editor and

penguin Random House my publisher they

also thought people would read it and

buy it

none of those motivations negates any of

the others but of course understanding

who is actually behind a project can be

really difficult especially online I

mean catfishing is now a verb because

it’s so easy to pretend to be what

you’re not the stop city-funded

internet campaign is a good example of

what I mean so in early 2018 the city of

West Plains Missouri was working on a

taxpayer-funded municipal Internet

service project if successful it would

provide residents with

cheaper high-speed Internet and while

the city was working on this plan a

website for the stop city funded

Internet campaign popped up it claimed

to be a grassroots community of local

fiscal conservatives against the plan

the campaign site looked pretty sleek

and professionally designed it had a

clear stated mission and high quality

photography oh and also a list of all

the ways that municipal internet service

projects have failed and just by looking

at the website you would not be able to

tell who was really behind that campaign

because it didn’t name names or list its

leadership but in the end someone did

discover the brains behind the operation

it was of course fidelity communications

a local commercial internet provider

that didn’t want to lose customers and

the only reason they came clean was

because a Missouri man noticed the file

name of the site’s logo had fidelity in

it but most of the time we don’t need to

search source code to know more about

who’s sharing the information that we’re

consuming we just need to learn to read

differently so we tend to read websites

like we read books or articles we start

at the top of the page look at the title

and scroll down from there we read

vertically and many websites look

legitimate when you’re reading

vertically because you’re only seeing

what their creators want you to see and

creators know what we think makes

websites look authoritative a

well-designed logo references and

citations professional photography no

grammatical errors or typos and so when

you read vertically it is often

impossible to distinguish reliable

information from unreliable but

introducing other strategies into your

reading like looking elsewhere for

additional information can help you find

out a lot more when you’re on a new

website instead of staying put and

taking their word for it you should just

leave open a new tab and start looking

for more information that’s called

lateral beating its lateral because

instead of moving up and down you’re

moving from tab to tab basically what

I’m saying is that when your browser

looks like this it can actually be good

news like here’s a website from the

American Legislative Exchange Council or

Alec this page from 2018 is about a back

and forth in the federal government over

regulating Internet service providers

like Comcast Verizon

regulating those providers could include

setting the prices and rates for their

services or whether they’re allowed to

collect tolls from websites or content

creators among other things

apparently alec is against government

regulation of Internet service providers

so we want to know who alec is we can

tell a few things by looking at their

website namely that this site is

apparently not run by Haley Baldwin’s

famous uncle also the site has web

address which is often used by

nonprofits and the logo looks serious

and kind of fancy the website’s easy to

use Alec’s about page says it’s

America’s largest nonpartisan voluntary

membership organization of state

legislators dedicated to the principles

of limited government free markets and

federalism its Board of Directors page

lists many US representatives and

senators and if we stay on this page it

all seems you know kind of boring and

standard but if you open a new tab and

search Alec ok yeah the first results

are Alec Baldwin you know Hayley’s uncle

but below that and below Alec’s website

lives there Wikipedia page and a website

called Alec exposed org toward the

bottom of the first page of search

results there are news articles by

websites like the Atlantic and the

Guardian these say that corporations and

nonprofits are also members of Alec we

learned that one of Alec’s stated goals

is to bring corporate leaders and

legislators together so they can craft

laws a search for Alec members shows

that AT&T; Comcast and Verizon have all

been members which means the original

article about internet regulation has

some you know big conflicts of interest

Internet Service Providers obviously

have a huge financial incentive to fight

regulation but the article doesn’t

disclose that so in this case lateral

reading helped us find out who’s really

behind information a huge group of

lawmakers working with big corporations

toward their common interests all right

so now that you understand the idea of

lateral reading you may be wondering

where you should go when you open that

next tab there are plenty of online

sources you can use to look into

different organizations and authors they

may not be perfect but they’re a good

starting point if you’re just trying to

learn a little bit about a source of

information let’s go to the

thought-bubble newspapers can be a good

place to start some of them have been

around for decades or

even centuries they have tons of

information traditionally newspapers

provided written information about

current events printed daily or weekly

today many newspapers have turned into

digital media companies that publish

news online daily in a variety of

formats some focus on international or

national news and others focus on local

news magazines and digital news sites

are useful for lateral reading too

however it’s important to note that many

online news organizations have their own

point of view sometimes these are

explicit liberal or conservative

political leanings but sometimes they’re

much harder to pinpoint like a mash-up

of their contributors own interests and

perspectives like a website written

specifically about comics for and by

women might cover the new Captain Marvel

trailer differently than a site with all

male writers would for instance we’ll

talk more about authorial perspective in

our next episode fact-checking websites

can also be an excellent resource sites

like and are

well respected fact-checking sites

created by researchers and journalists

with the goal of fact-checking articles

public statements and even social media

posts of course that doesn’t mean

they’re never wrong because they are

also created by humans but they do

strive to be right but like every

resource fact-checking websites are just

one tool in the toolbox there is no

magic arbiter of truth thanks

thought-bubble so to reiterate no

newspaper or news site is infallible all

of this is created by humans and humans

make mistakes constantly all of us our

modern media landscape is very difficult

to navigate and that has sowed a lot of

distrust between the public and the

quote unquote mainstream media but I

think there are two important things to

remember here first the media does not

exist it’s not a monolith there are no

secret meetings between every reporter

and editor and photographer in the world

to decide about what to report it is a

very large and diverse industry made up

of individuals with vastly different

viewpoints but secondly it is possible

to take those different viewpoints into

account when reading laterally and

checking information for yourself

now having waited in controversial

waters I’m about to dive into them

there’s another resource that you can

use while reading laterally

you may have been told not to use by

teachers and parents and other adults

but I’m not like them I’m young I’m

what’s that Stan no apparently I am like

them nonetheless I am here to tell you

that you should use Wikipedia Wikipedia

can be a very good place to start your

research you’ve definitely been told at

some point that it’s an unreliable

source or that anyone can just edit it

at a whim Wikipedia can be wrong it

often is wrong many articles can be

edited by anyone but Wikipedia is

actually also the largest general

reference work on the web and its

articles are subject to editing

standards some of them are quite

rigorous in fact so it can be a great

place to find a general overview of a

topic now not every article meets

Wikipedia’s editorial standards as many

articles say above the article but the

ones that do are well sourced and

carefully written and if you scroll down

to the bottom of any Wikipedia page you

should find citations that work we’re

gonna talk about Wikipedia in a future

episode but for now I just want to say

this there is no like single source on

the internet or off the internet for

that matter there’s no secret way to

understand the truth the whole truth and

nothing but the truth I think we

sometimes forget this so I want to state

it clearly information is made by people

flawed biased imperfect people but

sometimes we conclude that because no

source is inherently objective all

information is equally unreliable and

that is dead wrong no matter what you’re

thinking about are trying to learn about

understanding who is sharing the

information and why can help you to

evaluate what you’re reading and place

it in its proper context and lateral

reading can really help with that I know

it feels like extra work the entering of

search terms looking through sources and

so on but I’ve been trying this for the

last several weeks and it has genuinely

worked for me instead of asking why read

laterally I think we should consider

what we lose when we don’t read

laterally when we passively scroll

through information feeds and accept

what seems true and dismiss what seems

wrong reading that way gives

misinformation and disinformation more

power it allows people to hijack your

consciousness and it also makes you part

of the problem the world wide web demand

we utilize a new kind of reading to

evaluate information one that is very

different from how we read books or

newspapers because there is no beginning

or end to the web vertical reading

doesn’t work because it’s not vertical

it’s a web so we often need to leave

individual websites to understand that

website by using other websites it will

get simpler over time and with practice

once you didn’t know how to read

vertically so we’re gonna keep

practicing next time I’ll see you then

thank you for watching crash course

which is filmed here in Indianapolis

Indiana with the help of all of these

nice people for this series crash course

has teamed up with media-wise a project

out of the pointer Institute that was

created with support from Google the

pointer Institute is a nonprofit

journalism school the goal of media-wise

is to teach students how to assess the

accuracy of information they encounter

online the media-wise curriculum was

developed by the Stanford history

education group based on Civic online

reasoning research they began in 2015 if

you’re interested in learning more about

media wise and fact-checking you can

visit at media-wise tips on Instagram

thanks again for watching and thanks to

media wise and the Stanford history

education group for working with us on

this project



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