How can lateral reading help fight misinformation?

How can lateral reading help fight misinformation?

By: vivek j&
September 1 2023

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 How can lateral reading help fight misinformation?

Not everything on the internet can be taken at face value, and hence, learning about the source of information is crucial. (Image source: Logically Facts)

We all know that there is an information overload. What we also know is that not everything we see online is accurate, but what we don't know (sometimes) is what to do to ensure that we don't fall for mis/disinformation.

While the answer may not be that simple, some basic techniques can make this complex situation better. For example: Lateral reading – a technique used to find out who is behind a viral claim by reading and looking for sources online laterally instead of vertically. 

Confusing? Let me explain. 

What is lateral reading? 

Lateral reading is a technique used by most fact-checkers globally to verify the veracity of the information they come across. When one reads information laterally, the person tries to seek clarity on several questions that may arise while reading information online. In simple words, a person reading laterally might open several tabs on their computer to verify information from multiple sources. 

On the other hand, when a person looks for information online and reads it solely based on what is written on just one website or a link that pops up, it is called vertical reading. The individual may (or may not) make an extra effort to determine the veracity of the website from which they get the information.

Stanford History Education Group describes lateral reading as one of the best ways to learn about a website. What's equally important is to ask yourself questions before taking anything on the internet at face value. 

  • Who's behind the information?: Try to get to the primary source of the information. Ascertain if the information is from a credible source (a book or a peer-reviewed journal) or has it originated from an obscure website on the internet? 
  • Is there no other source than the one you're reading?: If it's a nice (I use the word carefully here) looking website but doesn't give any information about what their source of the information is, who they are, or who funds them, then hit pause and look for more credible sources. 
  • Any other reports?: Is the same information published by other reputed sources? Are there any major discrepancies that could possibly change the narrative altogether? 

Thinking critically will help us read laterally and decide which source is credible and what information is reliable. 

Let us look at an example. 

You come across a post on social media about NASA's statement on climate change. The post reads, "NASA admits climate change occurs because of change in Earth's solar orbit." 

Screenshot of a June 2023 post found on X (formerly Twitter). (Source: X/Screenshot)

Now, this post comes from a profile that has a blue tick and has over three million views. It might look believable to many of us. But before taking this information at face value, one should critically evaluate it. 

  • There is a link included in the post, which redirects us to an article on the website ''
  • Investigate the website – what kind of content have they shared in the past? Read laterally and look at other sources. In this case, the article seems to be from 2019 but has popped up in 2023.

Screenshot of the article titled “Remember when NASA acknowledged climate change occurs because of changes in Earth's solar orbit, not because of SUVs and fossil fuels?”  (Source:

  • In this case, they have attributed the information to NASA. Has NASA actually said anything to this effect?
  • Scrutinize other sources, if any, in the article. In this one, we found hyperlinks to the website of 'Hal Turner Radio Show.' Hal Turner is a far-right American commentator and a convicted felon who has been called out for making false and misleading statements on several occasions. 

So, when you ask questions, you automatically look for answers and that goes a long way in verifying information. 

More from Logically Facts on media literacy:

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Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before