Fake News, a.k.a. Information Disorder: an ongoing reading list

Since before the first Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference at the beginning of this year, I’ve been keeping a list of relevant articles. This list has expanded to include books, studies and reports, and other materials, and I am sharing it here. If you have relevant materials to add, please leave a comment here. If you would like to use this list for library programming, teaching, or related work, please feel free – I’d love to know about it if you do.

Though “fake news” is a term most people recognize these days (unfortunately), it is not the best term to use, for reasons Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan state in their Council of Europe report:

We refrain from using the term ‘fake news’, for two reasons. First, it is woefully inadequate to describe the complex phenomena of information pollution. The term has also begun to be appropriated by politicians around the world to describe news organisations whose coverage they find disagreeable. In this way, it’s becoming a mechanism by which the powerful can clamp down upon, restrict, undermine and circumvent the free press.
We therefore introduce a new conceptual framework for examining information disorder, identifying the three different types: mis-, dis- and mal-information.

Misinformation is when false information is shared with no harmful intent; disinformation is when false information is shared to cause harm; and mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm (e.g. by moving it from the private to the public sphere). Unfortunately, again, we are dealing with all three today (plus satirical sources like The Onion, which are the only good kind of fake news).

Fake News a.k.a. Information Disorder: A Resource List

Again, feedback is welcomed; please let me know if you use this list, or have anything to add. I am particularly interested in using the rise of interest in the topic of fake news to advocate for librarians in schools, as they are the ones who do the important work of teaching research skills, critical thinking, information literacy, and media literacy.

 

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Reviving the lost art of repair

In early September, the article “Libraries and the Art of Everything Maintenance” (Megan Cottrell, American Libraries, 9/1/2017) was the Library Link of the Day. The article featured a few public libraries that partnered with organizations such as Repair Cafe  and Fixit Clinic to encourage the repair of broken items, and teach people how to repair their own things.

There is so much to love about this idea. Together, libraries and Repair Cafe/Fixit Clinic:

  • help build a more sustainable world
  • fight the “throwaway” culture of obsolescence
  • encourage an interest in how things work
  • teach useful skills

For the past several years, libraries have been talking about Makerspaces – and in some cases, carving out space and buying 3D printers. While I think that 3D printers are amazing for specific purposes (like making teeth), I’m afraid a lot of them are used for churning out cheap plastic junk. They may serve as an introduction to design and robotics, which is not to be discounted…but I think the repair cafe/fixit clinic idea is so much more useful. After all, learning a skill comes easier when you have a purpose: learning a coding language, for example, will probably be a wasted effort unless there’s something you want to make with it.

In this scenario, a broken item – lamp, toaster, necklace, scooter – provides motivation for learning, the library provides space and coordinates the event, and the Repair Cafe or Fixit Clinic provides the volunteers (who may bring the tools of their trade with them). In the AL article, Cottrell writes, “The goal of the U-Fix-It Clinic [is] allowing people to repair broken items instead of throwing them away, but also inspiring them to learn more about the products they consume and how they work. The event is part of a larger movement across the globe working to help keep broken items out of landfills and revive the lost art of repair.”

Knowing how things work – and how to go about fixing them – is empowering; it’s useful knowledge.  In a piece for WGBH, “‘Fixit Clinics’ Help People Revive Their Broken Items,” Tina Martin interviewed the founder of Fixit Clinics, MIT grad Peter Mui, who said, “There’s a sense that [people] don’t have a choice when something breaks, there’s no repair people left anymore to fix this stuff.”

Mui wrote a guest blog post on ifixit.org, saying, “Once people start repairing, they start asking questions like ‘What went wrong?’, ‘Can it be fixed?’, and ‘How might it have been designed differently to avoid breaking in the first place?’ That last question is where we’re ultimately going with Fixit Clinic: to encourage products designed with maintenance, serviceability, and repairability in mind.”

As the things we use on a daily basis have become more complex (sometimes by necessity, sometimes not), design has become more opaque. I often think of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things while I’m working at the reference desk, explaining the “hamburger menu” to a patron, or helping them locate the miniscule, hidden power button on our new laptops. They often apologize, and I tell them it’s not their fault – it’s poor design. But as more and more of our things have microchips inside them, instead of parts we can see and tinker with, we’ve forgotten how to open things up and explore; we’ve given up on figuring out how things work – or why they stop working.

The mentality behind the Repair Cafe and the Fixit Clinic addresses these problems in a tremendously useful way. The Repair Cafe “About” page explains, “We throw away vast amounts of stuff….The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines.”

The Fixit Clinic’s mission has similar themes: “Fixit Clinic conveys basic disassembly, troubleshooting, and repair skills using peoples’ own broken things as the vehicle. By sharing these skills while transferring them to others we teach critical thinking through the lens of our relationship to consumption and sustainability. We strive to demystify science and technology so that we can ultimately make better policy choices as a society.”

A community learning experience that brings people together to share skills and tools, and repair items that would otherwise end up in landfills and be replaced with new things: this is a perfect program for libraries to host. The Cambridge Public Library has partnered with the Repair Cafe in Cambridge already; I’d love for our library to do this as well, and I’m keeping the idea on the back burner. (The front burners are already occupied: I’ve just launched a cookbook club this fall, which is wonderful but a lot of work. If only we had more staff…)

Related:

The end of repair? 3/11/2013

The extinction timeline, 12/29/2014?)

 

NELA 2017: Virtual attendance via Twitter

At every library conference, there are a few good souls who tweet key ideas, soundbites, stats, pictures of slides, and other tidbits from the sessions they attend. I didn’t go to the New England Library Association annual conference this year, but I did follow it on Twitter.

NELAtweet1NELAtweet2NELAtweet3NELAtweet4NELAtweet5

A few key themes emerged:

Media: A “silver spot” (not so much as to be a lining) of the 2016 election is the resulting heightened awareness of fake news and the importance of media literacy. A related point is that news organizations, pressured by the 24-hour news cycle and the lure of clickbait (clicks = revenue), may opt to cover “Twitter fights” instead of paying journalists for real field reporting.

Allyship and “neutrality”: As my co-worker tweeted, “Taking a neutral position is taking a position”; it supports the status quo. Being an ally for historically marginalized populations may be uncomfortable – “You’re going to mess up. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” It is not your first reaction but your second that makes you an ally. Be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to listen with openness and compassion.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Think outside the box, move things around (mobile furniture!), try new ideas – and don’t use the “we tried it once and it didn’t work” excuse. When was the last time you tried? Changes in staff, the community, or technology may make an idea that failed last time succeed this time. This applies to workflows as well. Why do we do the things we do the way we do them? Does the original reason still apply, or would doing things a different way make more sense now (and serve patrons better)?

Library, community, and social media: Social media is more of a conversation than a lecture; use the library social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an engagement tool, not just a marketing device. PC Sweeney, political director of EveryLibrary, advised libraries to “build a critical mass of supporters before you need them,” raising awareness and encouraging advocacy. (EveryLibrary is “the first and only national organization dedicated exclusively to political action at a local level to create, renew, and protect public funding for libraries of all types.”) It’s also important to “speak the language of your audience,” for example, “We need to protect all Americans’ rights to access their libraries.”

Statistics: “What you measure, you pay attention to.” And you pay attention to what you measure.

Kids and reading: “Kids know what books are right for them.” They can close a book at any time if they are scared or confused.

It sounds like the author talks – Ann Hood, Adam Gidwitz, and Garth Stein – were all wonderful, as well.

Thanks to those NELA participants who tweeted from the sessions!

NELAtweet6

Libraries in a Post-Truth World: The Conversation Continues

Back in January, there was a one-day conference called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World,” where panelists, presenters, and participants discussed the problem of “fake news,” the spread of misinformation/disinformation, the nature of truth, and what role librarians can play to help boost information literacy and media literacy. (And more. It was a pretty packed conference. See blog posts one | two | three.)

Another conference this month grew out of that one; the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) Intellectual Freedom / Social Responsibilities Committee planned it, and it was held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, which is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever attended a conference.

View of Wachusett from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

View from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The first speaker was Gail Slater, General Counsel for the Internet Association, based in Washington, DC. She had also spoken at ALA’s Midwinter conference in Boston, where she said she realized that “Librarians are the first responders and guardians of the Constitution” (a nice way to win over your librarian audience right away).

Slater’s topic was “The Right to Be Forgotten: Rulings in the EU, Their Impact on Global Internet Companies and Pending Legislation in the United States.” She spoke about “a wave of public policy challenges” to do with the internet now; one of the key questions is about internet companies’ (“online intermediaries”) responsibilities in terms of content posted by users. At the moment, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from liability, but this “safe harbor” law may change.

Slater then moved on to speak about the Right to Be Forgotten. In a key case from Spain in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines are responsible for the content they point to. People in the EU have the right to be forgotten; they can petition Google to de-index links to content about themselves, as Mario Costeja Gonzalez did in the Spanish case. The information itself still exists, but a search engine won’t bring it up.

Plants in hanging basket

A hanging plant, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Google handles these requests, weighing the public’s right to know against the individual’s right to privacy. Slater explained that in the EU, they place a higher value on the right to privacy, while in the US, we place a higher value on the right to know and free speech. This is “one of the bigger issues” on the geopolitical scale.

During the Q&A, someone asked a very good question: If a person can claim the Right to Be Forgotten or right of erasure, can a corporation claim it? Slater thought there were two reasons this was unlikely, even in the EU: first, the definition of a “data subject” is an individual citizen, not a corporation; and second, the request itself would become a news event, reminding everyone of the original story that the corporation is trying to erase.

Someone else asked what librarians can do about some of these issues. Slater said librarians can speak out about the importance of speech and the right to know. In the EU, privacy is considered a human right, but free speech is important too. She spoke of these as “competing equities” that require a careful balance.

Reflecting pool with turtle fountains

Turtle fountains in the Winter Garden, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The second speaker was Shawn McIntosh, Assistant Professor of English and Digital Journalism & Communications at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His topic was “Journalism Today: Learning to Trust the First Rough Draft of History.” Unlike Slater, he read a prepared speech, in the manner of a formal lecture. Rather ironically, he quoted Jay Rosen: “Journalism is a conversation, not a lecture.”

McIntosh spoke about what has and hasn’t changed in journalism. “Fake news” isn’t new, of course – there has always been propaganda, biased and partisan writing, and satire. However, “Willingness to accept the lies or spin them as ‘alternative facts’ or not caring is new.”

McIntosh said that his background in strategic communications (a.k.a. PR, a.k.a. “the dark side”) had been helpful: knowing how and why persuasion works, and how attitudes can be impervious to change even/especially when confronted with facts gives perspective to the news climate today. “Beliefs,” he said, “eat facts for lunch.” Research shows that presenting facts to counter someone’s beliefs does not work to change their minds (a disappointing thing for a roomful of librarians to hear).

Over the past few decades, McIntosh said, there has been a broad shift that is “dangerous to our civic and cultural life,” an erosion of public trust in experts and institutions. Journalists are seen as biased and untrustworthy sources. (Librarians, on the other hand, enjoy a high degree of social trust.)

Tree with fall foliage

A tree with fall foliage, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

What are the obstacles? Journalists are overworked and underpaid, and employees and coverage are being cut back, so there is more use of wire service content and less reporting on local issues. Less advertising leads to more cutbacks in a downward spiral. And the 24-hour news cycle certainly doesn’t help.

What can be done? “Journalism has to get back to its roots and break free from its modern traditions.” Rather than attempting or pretending to be objective, journalists must provide context for their stories. “Narrative and stories are how we make sense of the world….News is socially constructed. Acknowledge that.” Furthermore, because of mass communication and social media, the lecture style of journalism no longer works; it must be a conversation.  Within this conversation, though, “people will seek trusted voices,” and curation (the librarian ears perk up) “will play more of a role than it has so far.”

In this environment, McIntosh said, “Developing higher-order critical thinking skills is crucial….News literacy and information literacy skills are vital.” Librarians, of course, are on board with information literacy and media literacy, but McIntosh also said, “It can’t be all consumption, it must be production too.” People need to look under the hood to get an idea of how things work. Here, he said, is a “natural place for libraries, educations, journalists to meet.” People meeting face to face in libraries and classrooms can lead to “exchanges and dialogues between people of different views, [which] can start to break down polarization.”

Stone bench and plants

After a lunch break and a walk around the beautiful grounds, we reconvened in the conference room for a panel on “Combating Disinformation in Your Library.” I spoke, along with Andrea Fiorillo of the Reading Public Library and Bernadette Rivard of the Bellingham Public Library, about what we have done in our libraries to increase information literacy and media literacy.

Photo of panel from a conference attendee's Twitter account

Bernadette Rivard, Jenny Arch, Andrea Fiorillo

Last December, Bernadette wrote a blog post encouraging library users to “think before you share,” and giving tips on how to evaluate news sources. Andrea ran a “civil civics” series, bringing in speakers such as Melissa Zimdars (who was on the panel at the January conference; she also got online access to newspapers for the library’s patrons. (Most libraries still subscribe to newspapers in print, but because most people read the news online, digital subscriptions are another way the library can help connect people with quality information.) I spoke about my “What Is Fake News?” pamphlet, display, and library blog posts, and went over some tips that I’ll be sharing in a future library blog post.

View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden

View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden

After the panel, we returned to our tables for small group discussion on the following four questions:

  1. What does the term “fake news” mean for librarians and the communities we serve?
  2. What are some creative and traditional approaches for librarians to support First Amendment awareness and education?
  3. What are your library’s barriers and supports to promoting media literacy?
  4. What has your library done and what would you like to do to support media literacy?

Conference organizers will be compiling the replies and sending them out to participants, so I may share those here later. At our table alone, we had a mix of public librarians (children’s and adult) and school librarians; I imagine academic librarians would have had a different set of answers. The hashtag for the conference, #mlafreedom, purposely didn’t include a date, so it may be used for related events in the future.

What does your library do to promote information literacy and media literacy? What role(s) do you think librarians can play in our current information environment? Do you have blog posts or handouts to share?

 

 

 

 

 

MLA 2017: Charting Our Course

Conference days are long and tiring, but energizing too: It’s great reconnecting with former colleagues, classmates, and other librarian acquaintances and friends from committee meetings, other conferences, etc., and sometimes putting a face to a name from e-mail or Twitter. (The official hashtag for the conference was #masslib17.) And of course, there are always plenty of new ideas to steal borrow and resources to consult.

This year I made the most of my one day of MLA, starting with an 8:30am session and including the “YA Smackdown” during lunchtime. Without further ado…the recap!

Why Don’t Patrons READ Library Signage? Graphic Design and Libraries

Presented by Larissa Farrell (YA) and Jessica Lamarre (Children’s) from the Duxbury Free Library, and Jed T. Phillips (Tech & User Experience) from the Ames Free Library

Fonts Matter example "You'll Always Be Mine" in two fonts

From the Duxbury presentation slides. Fonts matter!

This presentation was not about wayfinding signage, but about advertising and PR. Duxbury has a six-person marketing team, including one person from each department; they meet quarterly (at least) for some big-picture discussion, and work together to ensure a cohesive look across platforms (print, facebook, instagram, etc.). They suggested getting a mid-range digital camera that all library staff could use, to ensure a minimum photo quality.

The presenters explained pixels, resolution, file types, and hexidecimal (“hex”) colors, and then shared their favorite sources for free licensed fonts (fontspring.com, fontsquirrel.com) and copyright-free images (pexels.com, Google Creative Commons search, Canva, unsplash.com, pixabay.com, NASA, LOC, NYPL, Smithsonian). Remember, a picture’s worth a thousand words – but not clipart. (“Clipart is not ideal.” “Do not use clipart.”) Images, illustrations, and fonts will all begin to look dated over time, so if your library uses a template, consider refreshing your look every few years.

Screenshot of tweet: avoid comic sans and papyrus

All three presenters use the online design program Canva; libraries can get free business accounts that up to six people can use. In addition to Canva (and Canva Design School), other graphic design programs and software include Microsoft Publisher, Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, and classes through Lynda.com.

In addition to basic technical information and specific software recommendations, the presenters also discussed the principles of graphic design, and recommended Chip Kidd’s book Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, which I also recommend as both an intro and a refresher.

Screenshot of tweet: form after function. Hierarchy.

Additional takeaways: Make your entrance(s) welcoming. Remember that “Where is…?”-type signage can advertise your collections and services, as well as helping people orient themselves and find what they need.

Screenshot of a tweet: Clipart is not ideal.

Transforming Teen Spaces

Presented by Jennifer Forgit from the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington and Katrina Ealy from the Holbrook Public Library

While support for teen collections has grown in many libraries, spaces and programming haven’t necessarily. YALSA policy supports a space that is exclusively for teens (see YALSA’s Teen Space Guidelines). If you don’t have a dedicated teen space in your library, where do the teens congregate? Can you make that their space? Repurpose underutilized space or move things around. (Have you weeded your print reference collection lately? Really, really weeded it?)

In Lexington, Jen was part of a very long process culminating in a major shift that included renovation. “Lots of support means lots of stakeholders”: library director, staff, trustees, Teen Advisory Board (TAB), town facilities department, Friends, Foundation, architect, library patrons & donors. They were ultimately able to move adult fiction upstairs with the rest of the adult materials and create a teen space downstairs, on the same floor as the Children’s department, which made sense to most people: Jen said she encountered less resistance to change than she’d expected.

Both Jen and Kat recommended getting input from teens. Jen advised keeping your teens involved throughout the process: dreaming, planning, decision-making, fundraising, installation. Get them involved early. But don’t make promises you can’t keep. Get feedback on choices you already know are “safe” (e.g. furniture in your price range – but let them pick the color). Furniture and shelving on casters is a great idea, so the space can be reconfigured for different uses.

Screenshot of tweet: Teens love to sit on the floor. Get a cool rug.

Kat works at Holbrook now but presented about her former workplace, the South Yarmouth Library, which is a very small library in an old sea captain’s house. They were able to take over the Friends’ book sale room (“They made about five dollars a week”) to create a space for teens: they stripped old wallpaper and put on fresh paint, got a new rug and some furniture, and added cheap, cute decorations that can be replaced every so often. They didn’t have much of a budget – just enough to cover the rug and furniture – but “small changes can make a big difference.”

Once you’ve designated a teen space, post clear signage: Lexington’s Teen Space sign is about six feet tall and reads, “This room is exclusively for the use of library patrons who are in 6th-13th grade. Others are welcome to get books and other materials from the Teen Space, but please do not linger in the room.”

Advocacy tips:

  • You can use American Fact Finder to look up population stats for your town. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, about 22.5% of Arlington’s population is 19 years old or under; nearly 10% are between 10-19 years old. That’s a not-insignificant chunk of the population.
  • The #1 reason teens try drugs is boredom (followed by anxiety and loneliness). We can help with that!
  • If someone objects, “But there aren’t any teens who use the library,” reply, “If you build it, they will come.”
  • Further resources: Teen Spaces: the step-by-step library makeover by Kimberly Bolan; VOYA’s YA Spaces of Your Dreams Collection edited by Anthony Bernier; and the aforementioned Teen Space Guidelines from YALSA.

Screenshot of two tweets about teen population stats from American Fact Finder and "if you build it, they will come"

Slides and notes from the Youth Services Section presentations are or will soon be available at the MLA YSS wiki. (Here is the MLA Conference 2017 link.) Stay tuned for my next blog post(s) on Mind in the Making, the YA Smackdown, and Step Into Your Office: The Library as a Co-Working Space.

Oh – and the Robbins Library Book Cart Drill Team finally won a much-deserved first place award! Watch the video.

 

Libraries in a Post-Truth World, Part III: Afternoon Discussion

See Part I and Part II of Libraries in a Post-Truth World.

Workshop Ideas posterboard with post-its

In the Fact, Truth, and Trust group of academic and public librarians and researchers, we discussed confirmation bias, verifying social media content, emotions vs. facts, and building an information diet. We started with introductions and why we had chosen this group. People expressed interest in:

  • How to separate fact from opinion (“Where does truth lie in a society that’s all about opinion and rhetoric?”)
  • How to have programs in libraries and schools without political slant or agenda
  • Advocacy for funding for librarians in schools
  • Teaching/encouraging critical thinking skills
  • Information-seeking behavior and narrative theory, how people construct narratives
  • Trust in/use of data (what people talk about when they talk about data; presentation of data)

One participant commented that “Uncovering bias is one of the highest-order thinking skills we have…it can be almost invisible.” As one of the panelists had pointed out earlier, confirmation bias affects people on both/all political sides. Two people mentioned the site allsides.com (“Don’t be fooled by bias. Think for yourself”), which offers left, right, and central perspectives for real news stories. 

Eventually we came to the idea of “building an information diet” and spent most of our time discussing how we might use that idea to offer library programs on information literacy. The diet analogy will be immediately familiar to most people: a healthy information diet, like a healthy food diet, should be varied and mostly wholesome. There are many ways to approach this:

  • Read/watch/listen to a news source that has the opposite perspective from your usual source(s). Expand/broaden your news-universe; whether or not you agree with it, know where the other side is coming from. Begin to build a bridge from your emotional comfort areas to increase empathy. You may not change your mind, but understand where others are coming from.
  • Debate whose responsibility it is to curb “fake news”/ propaganda/misinformation/disinformation. Social media platforms? The government? Individuals?
  • Incorporate international media sources: look at international coverage of world news and U.S. news. If teaching a class or workshop, international examples are less political, as are sports and entertainment/cultural coverage.
  • Affirm belief in truth and facts: encourage people to be skeptical, but convince them that verification is possible.

As for specific program ideas:

  • Include it in existing summer reading programs.
  • Use the “Whole 30” model, or modify it to a day- or week-long challenge. Those who want to participate can meet at the beginning and end to discuss their strategies and results.
  • Create a game aspect with competition and prizes. Tracking down original sources can be like a mystery or a treasure hunt.
  • Try a version of the Human Library to encourage discussions across political differences. A conversation with a real live person is more likely to change someone’s mind (or create that empathy bridge) than reading an article.
  • Checkology from the News Literacy Project can be used in public libraries. It’s designed for students in grades 6-12 but some parts are appropriate for adults as well.

It’s important to maintain the trust that people already have in libraries, and strike a balance between advocacy and alienation. Be aware that the term “fake news” itself is very polarizing. (But “propaganda” is even more so.) Frame information literacy programs as helpful for “brushing up your skills” instead of teaching something entirely new. 

The information diet idea isn’t original to the Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference; a NYT article has been published since the conference on the same topic (“Fatigued by the News? Experts Suggest How to Adjust Your Information Diet,” Christopher Mele, The New York Times, February 1, 2017). This article was somewhat short on actual suggestions, however, beyond (1) seeking out positive news as an antidote to the barrage of negativity, (2) reading a print newspaper instead of Internet sources, and (3) not reading or watching the news before bed. It also links to an article that cites Dan Gillmor, who popularized the “slow news” movement, partly as a reaction to the 24-hour news cycle.

I used to read Dan Gillmor’s blog regularly, and actually did an activity he assigns to the students in his media literacy class at ASU: to track your own media consumption for one day. It was interesting to do, and could easily be adapted into a library program if patrons were interested in sharing their experience.

I’m grateful for the experience of attending this conference, and hope to put some of the ideas to work here in my library.

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light” –George Washington

Libraries in a Post-Truth World, Part II: Morning Panel

See the first Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference post here.

The panelists:

John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy, and author
Mary Robb, Teacher, Media Literacy and Democracy, Andover High School
Adam Schrader, Former Facebook editor and news fact checker
Damaso Reyes, Program Coordinator, The News Literacy Project
Melissa Zimdars, PhD, Assistant Professor of Communication at Merrimack College
Catherine Tousignant, English Instructor, Phillips Academy
Alison Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy
John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Northeastern University
Claire Wardle, First Draft News
Ben Sobel, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

Right away, many of the panelists took issue with the term “post-truth”:

  • Not post-truth but post-accountability; the responsibility is on all of us to call out inaccuracies. It is important to teach students the skills to tell fact from fiction. (Mary Robb)
  • “Post-truth” is a useful way to think about how information and politics are converging. Immediacy sacrifices deep digging. When people only read headlines, what kind of information are they taking from that and what does that mean? Variety of the internet includes misinformation and disinformation (and “bullshit”). (Melissa Zimdars)
  • “There is a world of truth and a world of facts and it doesn’t go away. But there’s also a world of words that occupies its own space…the words have their own power.” Who has authority? Whose authorship is valuable and meaningful? Perspective does matter. Words have power even if they’re untrue. (Catherine Tousignant)
  • Students look for consensus, not answers/truth….Untruth works well when it confirms how you feel. (Alison Head)

They also discussed “fake news” and its synonyms:

  • There is a difference between untruth and bias. (Adam Schrader)
  • “Fake news” is a new term for an old thing – PROPAGANDA. It is important to call these things by their actual names. (Damaso Reyes)
  • A lot of the fake news propagated during the election were fueled by economic motives, not political ones (clicks = money). Antidotes/possible correctives are complicated. (John Wihbey)
  • “I don’t want to take us down the rabbit hole of darkness, but…we have to think about this” ability to create and disseminate. Trust shifts. Trust bubbles/filter bubbles increase peer-to-peer influence in the absence of gatekeepers. (Claire Wardle)
  • The best way to combat fake news is to understand how it is created and disseminated. (Adam Schrader)

Information literacy, media literacy, news literacy:

  • “Information is coming towards [students], they don’t have to seek it out….Reach has become a proxy for authority. There are more sources of information” being seen as valid. (Damaso Reyes)
  • There has been a slippage in authority – we’ve moved from scarcity to abundance [of information], moving target. (Alison Head)
  • Confirmation bias is a bipartisan challenge (Damaso Reyes)
  • “We’re surrounded by editorial speech” (e.g. Google search autocomplete). “[People think] the way we obtain our news…are neutral conduits for information, when in fact they are not.” What does it mean to hold Google and Facebook accountable? (Ben Sobel)

What can librarians do?

  • Librarians are the “intellectual beating heart of our institutions.” (John Palfrey)
  • Different types of libraries can take different actions. Read Pew reports, PIL reports, etc. Libraries are a trusted institution. (Whereas newspapers are less so now.) Librarians are good at ferreting out what exists and good at making partnerships. Librarians are in the right position to make an impact. (Alison Head)
  • Academic libraries trying to prepare students to be successful may be using the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, though this framework mentions quality but not truth. Evaluation is the one skill students tend to take and build on. What kind of tools [for evaluation of information] already exist? What partnerships are formed around those tools?  Twitter Trails is one example of a tool to determine where information came from and how it spread.  (Alison Head)
  • Public libraries are going through a shift not unlike the shift newspapers and media have gone through….It’s not about directing a student to a book…it’s about teaching them how to find information. The best thing librarians can do is give students/patrons the tools to find, sort, prioritize information. “It’s about having the tools to interrogate the information that you find.” (Damaso Reyes)
  • Teach students to look for WAIL in news stories: Word choice, Adjectives/adverbs, facts Included, Left out. Sometimes you don’t know what’s left out until you consult another source. Students used to come to school for information, now they have information but don’t know its quality. Teach critical analysis. (Mary Robb)
  • Have programs with journalists. What libraries could do is bring in different journalists who covered the same event and have them “unpack” how they covered that story: what goes into news creation, how stories can be reported in two different ways. (Damaso Reyes)
  • Students love to talk to journalists. It’s a great way to get students to understand how news is created. (Melissa Zimdars)
  • Improve (or help explain) the presentation of information, e.g. from government websites. Improve library websites – they could be much more user-friendly. (John Wihbey)

Q&A

Question for the journalists on the panel: What process do you use for fact-checking?

Panel response: It depends on the type of fact. For a quote, try to find video or audio recording of the person saying it (video is better, so you can carefully examine whether the sound and the lips moving sync up – both audio and video can be faked). For a statistic, go to the organization that issued it. Obtain multiple, credible sources. Cross-verify independently. Use government sources (but be skeptical about these too). Sometimes it’s better to “wait for the debris to clear,” then accurately report the truth. For verification of unofficial sources (e.g. social media content), try to determine the providence, source, state, location.

Question/comment: How to evaluate validity and quality is a complicated problem. Librarians are best-trained to deal with this problem, even better than journalists (who are often trying to be first to break the news). Provide evidence of incorrect information/lies. As humans we just cannot process all of this information. Tech people can create plug-ins to create alerts for lies, satire. Companies must cut off advertising to fake news purveyors. Schools need to teach media literacy and critical thinking. People should understand the scientific method and apply it to your everyday thinking and decisions. Understand the difference between fact and opinion. Understand who you are – know your biases.

Panel response: Silicon Valley needs to hire a nation of librarians! There are some programs and browser plugins that can help (e.g. Hoaxy). Re: Citizen journalism and breaking news: encourage students to keep off of social media (either viewing or sharing) during breaking news situations.

Question: Those of us who teach information literacy classes traditionally direct our students to government websites….

Panel response: During the government shutdown, many pages were inaccessible. Approach with skepticism. Each president has a different agenda; what have they said on a topic? Look elsewhere for information. Figure out which information source is most appropriate for each task. There are more ways to get information, there are ways to evaluate it. Someone introduced an idea about different versions (algorithms) of Facebook, as alternate versions of their usual (secret) algorithm; users could choose the MIT version, LOC version, etc.

All that discussion and Q&A filled an hour and a half and gave participants plenty to think about. In my next post, I’ll write about the afternoon discussion session on “fact, truth, and trust,” where we came up with ideas to use in academic and public libraries.