Fake news. It’s a constant refrain everywhere we turn, shouted by politicians, social media, and news channels. It’s a phrase we’ve begun to apply to every article with which we don’t agree, a tagline that dismisses fact, fiction, and opinion equally, that masks reporting as deception and evidence as anecdote. Calling uncomfortable information “fake news” allows us to retreat into filter bubbles that reinforce our view of the world, pushing anything that contradicts what we believe to be true into the realm of make-believe.
But fake news does deceive. In our eagerness to reject reports that threaten to crack our foundation, we unquestioningly accept reports that shore up our current beliefs. Fake news – an article or statement with little or no basis in fact that is put forward to intentionally deceive – is no respecter of political, religious, or social lines. Fake news exists to distract us from the real story, to muddy the waters on controversial issues, to further polarize us from our neighbors. Fake news is intended to divide. If we are to come together as a community, if we are to face head-on the issues that most challenge us, we must learn to identify fake news, to seek out reliable sources.
We must use the library.
In a world where filter bubbles and information silos threaten to isolate us, libraries build community through equitable access to information. Libraries intentionally build collections that show multiple sides of a story, that give various perspectives of history, that are grounded in fact and solid research. Libraries are excellent places to learn to check sources and conduct your own research. The American Library Association (ALA) is particularly concerned with helping us recognize disinformation and have started a campaign called “Protect Yourself from Fake News.”
Here are ALA’s nine tips, written by Joanna M. Burkhardt, to help you separate fact from fiction:
Be Skeptical. Does the headline sound unlikely, unrealistic, preposterous? Don’t take every headline you see at face value.
Spell Check. Does the url have any odd suffixes or substitutions (like replacing a letter “l” with a numeral “1,” for example)? Is this a fake news site pretending to be something else?
Identify the Author. Many fake news stories are anonymous. If you can’t find out who wrote the information, be wary of the content.
Compare and Contrast. Compare the headline and/or picture against the content of the article. If they don’t match, are they meant to mislead or misdirect you?
Consult Multiple Sources. Check other sources. Are they reporting the same or similar news? If it’s a big story, they will. What do “opposition” sources say about the story? Do they report the same facts?
Check It Out. Fact check the story with watch dog sites such as Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact.com. They make it their job to make sure the information from news sites is accurate.
Dig Deeper. Does the article cite sources or traceable quotes? Find and read the actual study for confirmation. Put quotes in context.
Beware Online “Filter Bubbles.” Is predictive searching biasing your information retrieval? Social media often feeds you only items that are similar to items you have liked. This keeps you from getting both “sides” of a story.
Be Open-Minded. Is confirmation bias – the tendency to believe reports that confirm what you already believe – putting you in an echo chamber? Be open-minded. Ask questions.
The Mississippi County Library System (MCLS) has free bookmarks with these nine points available. MCLS also has a variety of books that address fake news, media bias, post-facts, hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation. These titles can help customers better understand the current news landscape, and make informed choices about the information they consume. Stop by your local MCLS library today for a bookmark and a book! As always, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime with questions or suggestions.