Simple decision trees to judge the trustworthiness of information online
What is the boost?
The fast-and-frugal decision tree (FFT) “Can you trust this information?” (see figure below) is an example of a simple tool for deciding whether or not to trust a piece of information encountered online. It uses three key questions: (a) “Who is behind this information?” (b) “What is the evidence?” (c) “What do other sources say?”—identified by Breakstone et al. (2018) and Wineburg and McGrew (2019)—as cues in the simple decision tree.
Which challenges does the boost tackle?
False and misleading information.
How does it work?
To quickly decide whether or not a piece of information can be trusted, a user goes through the cues in the decision tree sequentially. Cues are framed as questions, starting with the most important one: “Who is behind the information?” If, after lateral reading, the user deems the source untrustworthy, the tree is already exited with the decision to not trust the information. If lateral reading proves the source trustworthy, the user moves on to the next cue (and so on). This simple decision tree offers a potential decision at each point.
Which competences does the boost foster?
Verifying online information and judging the trustworthiness (credibility) of the source.
What is the evidence behind it?
Evidence for the three questions used as cues in the fast-and-frugal decision tree (see figure below) comes from research by the Stanford History Education Group. For instance, McGrew et al. (2019) found that after two 75-min lessons on evaluating the credibility of online sources (an extended version of the three questions outlined above), students in the treatment condition (n = 29) tested on their online reasoning skills were more than twice as likely to score higher at posttest than at pretest, whereas students in the control condition (n = 38) were equally likely to score higher or lower at posttest than at pretest, indicating that the intervention was successful.
Evidence for the effectiveness of fast-and-frugal decision trees as effective decision aids in general comes both from basic research in computer science, user studies (Banerjee et al., 2017), as well as, their applied use in many different domains (e.g., in medicine). For reviews on fast-and-frugal decision trees (and simple decision aids more generally), see Katsikopoulos et al. (2021) and Hafenbrädl et al. (2016).
The effectiveness of this particular boost (the FFT “Can you trust this information?,” see figure below) has not yet been directly tested.
Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M., Ortega, T., Wineburg, S. (2018). Teaching students to navigate the online landscape. Social Education, 82(4), 219–221. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ncss/se/2018/00000082/00000004/art00010
McGrew, S., Smith, M., Breakstone, J., Ortega, T., Wineburg, S. (2019). Improving university students’ web savvy: An intervention study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 485–500. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12279