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College students lack fact-checking skills, which may lead them to accept information at face value. We report findings from an institution participating in the Digital Polarization Initiative (DPI), a national effort to teach students lateral reading strategies used by expert fact-checkers to verify online information. Lateral reading requires users to leave the information (website) to find out whether someone has already fact-checked the claim, identify the original source, or learn more about the individuals or organizations making the claim. Instructor-matched sections of a general education civics course implemented the DPI curriculum (N=136 students) or provided business-as-usual civics instruction (N=94 students). At posttest, students in DPI sections were more likely to use lateral reading to fact-check and correctly evaluate the trustworthiness of information than controls. Aligning with the DPI’s emphasis on usingWikipedia to investigate sources, students in DPI sections reported greater use of Wikipedia at posttest than controls, but did not differ significantly in their trust of Wikipedia. In DPI sections, students who failed to read laterally at posttest reported higher trust of Wikipedia at pretest than students who read at least one problem laterally. Responsiveness to the curriculum was also linked to numbers of online assignments attempted, but unrelated to pretest media literacy knowledge, use of lateral reading, or self-reported use of lateral reading. Further research is needed to determine whether improvements in lateral reading are maintained over time and to explore other factors that might distinguish students whose skills improved after instruction from non-responders.


This work was originally published in Cognitive Research available at

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