Librarian conference

Post-Fact landscape: How librarians can help.

The Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference 2017

 Continuing our series of blog post, Catherine Stuart writes about her day. 

What is the ‘fake news phenomenon’?

What are the potential effects of it and who does it affect?

How can I as a Teacher/Librarian combat this within my role?

 I attended this session to learn more about the fake news phenomenon that we are experiencing today and the implications it has for students to differentiate between fake and factual internet information. The phenomenon is affecting all ages of students from primary through secondary, up to University level. The speed in which the internet has grown hasn’t necessarily been matched with the speed of our knowledge on how to deal with it. As a result, we have students who believe they are internet savvy when in fact, they merely know how to navigate their way around it. They don’t necessarily understand how to critically assess the information they read and identify that what they read isn’t true or factual.

Matt Benzing from Miami University spoke about how the fake news phenomenon has gripped America. He highlighted how social media has been the main driving force behind this phenomenon but that fake news isn’t necessarily a new thing. He states that fake news or propaganda has been around for years, we are just experiencing it in a new and more prolific way. The technology available to the public allows anyone to be able to easily manipulate a photograph or video, to deliberately cause strong emotive reactions and publish them to a large audience via Facebook and the like. Only recently in America, photographs of an NFL football team in their locker room were published on Facebook. These photographs were carefully altered to create and conjure images of savagery and race-related political messages. The purpose was solely to stir emotions on a large scale and cause uproar and discord. The outcome is that people focus on what the fake image was trying to imply rather than the fact that the image is obviously fake and the scenario never even happened.

Matt described this type of scenario as creating a ‘cognitive dissidence’ that is purposefully ‘knocking people off their balance’. The effects of fake news can, therefore, be catastrophic.

So what role can we play as teachers and librarians (information specialists) to counteract this situation to our students and users?

Krystal Vitties of Suffolk Libraries reiterated the opinion that Fake news is not new but it is adapting and that the ‘goal posts have changed’. Krystal spoke about social media being an ‘unregulated space of misinformation’, and that it is this aspect that is the reason behind the fake news situation that we now live in. She spoke about our role as information specialists (librarians and teachers). That our challenge is a ‘low-key fight’ to ensure that students, children and the general public who use our libraries are equipped with the internet and assessment skills to make up their own minds about fake news – to empower them to understand how to identify what is real or fake and the importance of doing so. It is our role as librarians and teachers to highlight the importance to others to critically assess information; to carefully consider what we read, to question what we believe.

So what can a librarian/library do?

 Krystal described the work they do at Suffolk Libraries, including carefully considering what is stocked in the library and online catalogues, strengthening bonds within communities, creating ‘natural’ multi-cultural opportunities and ‘weaving in information skills for children’, to fight the propaganda we are faced with in everyday life. Ensuring that all staff within a library environment has the core skill set to educate others and opening up access to computers to the whole community (hiring out Ipads etc).

She described how the phenomenon of fake news has implications for stock selection.  For example, if the library stocks the newspaper the ‘Daily Mail’, arguably a propagator of fake information, how ethical is this decision if the service is trying to create an honest dialogue with users about fake news and information? If the library stops stocking it, is it limiting people’s access to information and taking away their right to make up their own mind about what they read and what they believe. (Ellie Fowkes)

As a school’s librarian, we teach sessions to students to demonstrate best practice for internet searching and research from as early as primary school, in order to embed understanding of correct internet use.  All these ‘low-key’ opportunities are key factors to giving people the skills to understand and relate that everything they read online is not necessarily what is happening in the real world.

This is not just isolated to librarians as teachers. Ingeborg Rygh Hjorthen works for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation as a Librarian/Journalist and also as a Fact Finder for Faktisk, a Norwegian fact-finding organisation that deciphers the truth from the fake news. Her role is to determine the ‘good facts’ from the bad facts. Ingeborg explained that within these roles she must identify firstly what is fake news, hoax, propaganda or someone with a personal agenda trying to force their opinion on others. Once the facts have been separated from ‘the fake’, the truth and the inaccuracies are publicised, acting as a regulator to the fake news.

Ingeborg described the internet as a ‘double-edged sword’ and that she too feels that the fake news phenomenon is related to the internet being an unregulated space.

As with any librarian’s role, as Ingeborg explained, our strengths lie within our ‘search skills, source expertise’ and the ‘information lifecycle’ of the resources we use.

Whether we are teachers, librarians, school’s librarians, journalist/librarians or fact finders, we must all be information specialists in our field, in order to empower those we interact with to question what they read and give them the skills to ascertain ‘fake’ from fact.

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