Dis-information and 'fake news' in a post-truth world

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Contents

Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 21 June 2017

Introduction

See also Do employers want information literacy skills? | Information needs of users | Media literacy | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Transliteracy for librarians

Synonyms & related terms

Introduction

Fact.jpg
  • According to Wikipedia, "...Fake news is a type of yellow journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention..."
  • How do we distinguish misinformation, pseudo-facts, distortions, and outright lies from reliable information?
  • As information providers, we are bombarded with more information each day than our brains can process.
  • Bad data, half-truths, and even outright lies among "the facts"; how can we know if we are being sold mistruths?
  • Information literacy refers to an understanding that there are hierarchies of source quality and bias that variously distort our information feeds via every media channel, including social media; newspapers, bloggers, the government, and Wikipedia to be factually and logically correct, but they so often aren’t
  • We need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter if we want to be successful at work, at play, and in making the most of our lives. This means checking the plausibility and reasoning—not passively accepting information, repeating it, and making decisions based on it.
  • This document entry will be a resource for assessing the accuracy or veracity of a range of online information sources organized under various headings. The objective is to improve the consumption of information and to help readers learn how to separate accurate, truth-based information from crap.

Discussion

  • The Oxford Dictionaries 2016 word of the year: post-truth. Amazing that even one or two years ago, phrases like post-truth and “fake news” were essentially unknown in popular usage.
  • As far back as 1992, according to Christian Science Monitor, the first known use of “post-truth” appeared in a Nation article about the Iran-Contra scandal. Certainly Google and Wikipedia, with their random and sometimes unverified results, have been a bane of librarians, educators and students for well over a decade. (In fact, notes The Verge, “the first Google search result for election results for several hours [post-election] was a tiny conspiracy blog that wrongly showed Trump winning the popular vote.”)
  • Ten years ago, “Colbert Report” star Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness,” understood as “believing something that feels true, even if it isn't supported by fact."
  • Clickbait, with its provocative and misleading headlines, has driven countless users to suspect sites over the years.
  • Then with the rise of social media came the inevitable viral spam and hoaxes.
  • But this past year has ramped up the concept of post-truth/fake news dramatically, with awareness driven by Brexit and the U.S. presidential election. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2016 some 62 percent of adults got their news from social media, compared to 49 percent reporting on a slightly different version of the question in 2012.
  • Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are the most-cited platforms for such users, and the majority of them “stumble” upon the posts while they’re doing other things on the sites.
  • “The issue is that legitimate news stories get mixed in with everything else on your Facebook ‘news’ feed,” says c/net. “That includes stories from websites that are posing as news sources to harvest your clicks. What's more, even if you click a link to a well-researched Wall Street Journal story, Facebook could show you related stories from sites that don't meet those same standards.” (Facebook announced a crackdown on fake news in November 2016, with efforts including third-party verification and making it easier to report false news.)
  • Can librarians effectively counter fake news? Any attempt is certainly a challenge. “We’re just inundated with so much information it becomes just more difficult to parse out where the quality information is.” That quote, from University of Illinois Professor Nicole A. Cooke, is part of an interview in The Verge. “We used to talk to students about ‘How does the website look? Does it look like you could have done it on your laptop or does it look like there’s a corporation behind it?’ ...But these new sites are so savvy, the interfaces can be really slick, and they can look a lot like what we consider to be reputable sources.”
  • The “Annoyed Librarian” of Library Journal’s blog says that theoretically, “librarians could have a role to play in the battle against fake news. Libraries in the mass certainly have the resources to fact-check anything, and they could bombard Facebook. Except of course they would only be seen by people who already agree with them, which is part of the complaint against Facebook.”
  • A ProQuest survey of 200+ librarians reveals the goals and challenges of their information literacy efforts. As a Stanford University study revealed, 82 percent of middle-schoolers “could not distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story,” librarians can take steps to help foster information literacy. Cooke: “When you see a very salacious headline or something that’s challenging, sometimes the inclination is to forward it without checking. You have to ask: does this appear in multiple places or did you only see it on Facebook?”
  • Georgina Cronin, University of Cambridge Research & Support Librarian and author of “Cardies & Tweed” blog: “If you’re not an outreach person hook your users up with someone who is. ...Lead by example by sharing good resources on social media accounts and by running effective teaching sessions on literacy, social media use and critical thinking, and build up the skills of your communities.” For students doing assignments or general patrons looking for information, the library is still a “safe place” to gather facts that lead to informed conclusions.
  • On open web searches, even such simple sources as the site’s About Us and Privacy Policy page, clear dates on posted articles or author credentials that are easy to track contributes to confidence in the content as trustworthy. Providing vetted content to aid with critical thinking can start at the middle-school level with products like ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher (a Library Journal winner and CODiE finalist), which presents balanced pro/con arguments from global sources. ProQuest’s Research Companion, an award-winning cloud-based information literacy solution for researchers and educators, is aligned to both to ACRL Information Literacy and Common Core English Language Arts standards.

Useful websites and links

  • Disinformation (Russian: dezinformatsiya and dezinformatsia) is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.

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