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The triple filter test – Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?

Rob Clarke

Rob is the co-founder and CEO of Learning Architects. He supports leaders and organisations to thrive in the future through coaching, development, technology and learning design. He is a Ministry of Education accredited PLD facilitator. He is also a Dad and volunteers as Special Officer - Education for the United Nations Association of NZ.

For more information please visit: or get in touch via +64 21 590 572

The Triple Filter Test

Learning to be an effective digital citizen is an interesting and, at times, challenging journey – whether you are a student, teacher, school leader, or a parent. This idea: ‘The Triple Filter Test – Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?’ will enable you to help learners judge the quality of their interactions in the online world. It will also be useful in guiding healthy and positive interactions in the physical world!

One of the elements I often find missing in digital citizenship programmes in schools is a focus on the needs of parents and educators – how can adults help students become effective digital citizens if they themselves are ineffective in the digital environment? Too often programmes in schools are focussed on rules which are either phrased as ‘what we should do’ or conversely in the negative as ‘we must not do’, which is somewhat limiting.

Schools and families need a strong values and ethics approach to enabling effective and positive behaviour in the online world.

This post is designed to help educators, school leaders and parents by providing some useful resources for you to use with your staff, family or class which will enable you to judge the quality of your online interactions and behaviour.

These resources can also be used to help guide the behaviour of others in the online world. This idea provides an ‘ethical’ or ‘values-based’ filter that is useful in helping us become safe, self-managing, active and respectful participants in an increasingly online world. It is called ‘The Triple Filter Test’.

Originally this idea is credited as coming from the philosopher Socrates in ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC). It is a widely used idea which has been applied to aspects such as dealing with gossip and parenting.

It is a brilliant tool which you can apply when helping our young people (and adults for that matter) become effective digital citizens. Here is the story with an accompanying video to share with your students/staff:

What is "Triple Filter" test of Socrates?

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day an acquaintance ran up to him asked, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about Diogenes?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied, “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?” asked his acquaintance.

Is it true?

“That’s right,” Socrates continued, “Before you talk to me about Diogenes let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are  about to tell me is true?”
“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it.”

Is it good?

“All right,” said Socrates, “So you don’t really know if it’s true or  not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what  you are about to tell me about Diogenes something good?”
“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “You want to tell me something about Diogenes  that may be bad, even though you’re not certain it’s true?” The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Is it useful?

Socrates continued, “You may still pass the test though, because there  is a third filter, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me  about Diogenes going to be useful to me?”
“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “If what you want to tell me is neither  True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me or anyone at all?”

The man was bewildered and ashamed, having had a great opportunity to reflect on and (hopefully) alter his behaviour.

If you would like help designing effective programmes for empowering digital citizenship for students, community or staff please get in touch – we can help.

References and further reading:

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