Have you heard the latest? A farmer in Canada has brown cows that give chocolate milk! It must be true - my friend shared an article about it with me on Twitter.
Actually, I don’t believe in cows that give chocolate milk (even though the idea is a dream come true) and I’ve never read about these magical Canadian cows online. However, many stories that are just as false - including some that seem perfectly reasonable - are spread around the internet like peanut butter on toast. "Misleading information published as news is not new,” says the American Library Association. “Today, with increasing reliance on both digital news outlets and social media for news, sifting through the messages for non-biased sources requires attention.” Information is delivered quickly and efficiently whether it is true or not. How does it happen? And how can we know what information to trust?
Libraries across the country recognize that the widespread use of disinformation and fake news has created a critical problem in our society. Librarians are committed to helping customers learn more about how to examine where information comes from and determine if it’s reliable. The St. Charles City-County Library offers classes regularly that help customers think critically about what they read and watch. (Keep an eye on our calendar for the next one!)
During a recent event with The News Literacy Project, Library customers learned about “confirmation bias”. This bias explains why we want to believe certain stories. When an article or video confirms something we suspect or reinforces what we already think, we are more likely to trust it. Confirmation bias causes someone you know and love to read a negative article about a politician she doesn’t like, then immediately share the article on her Facebook page. Her Facebook friends - who also don’t like this politician - also share the article. You eventually see it and recognize that it’s not true. But now, thousands of people have seen it, believe it, and have also shared it. In addition, now that they have shown interest in that article, Facebook will provide them with similar content - videos, stories, and ads - that may or may not be reliable. Seeing that content, again and again, makes it seem more credible.
If you find yourself knee-deep in an interesting topic online (even if it comes from a friend or family member), do your own research to check the facts. Miami Dade College has an excellent guide to “Understanding & Identifying Fake News”. Get the what, why, and how at libraryguides.mdc.edu/FakeNewsResource. It’s up to each of us to stay informed and to think critically about information - even information that seems to be trustworthy. These sites, recommended by the American Library Association, can also help.
• FactCheck.org: This nonpartisan “consumer advocate for voters” aims to reduce confusion and deception in politics. Search by topic or ask questions about recent stories.
• Snopes.com: A well-known fact-checking website, Snopes users can type a headline or topic into the search bar to get information about the reliability of the information.
• Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints: This online resource, free with your library card, provides balanced views and clear explanations from both sides of current issues and events. (Find it in the eLibrary at myLibrary.org.)
• Politifact.com: Find recent quotes, social media posts, and articles with accompanying “Truth-o-Meter” ratings, ranging from “False” to “Half True” to “True”.
• ProCon.org: This nonprofit, nonpartisan site provides well-researched info on more than 50 controversial issues.
Libraries have always tried to educate customers about resources and help them become better, more discerning consumers of information. Today it’s more important than ever. Whether you’re reading a book, watching a news segment, or browsing the internet, be a critical thinker. Put aside your confirmation bias, research the source of your story, and feel confident that the information you’re using is reliable.
All Library facilities are open to the public and offer curbside/drive-up services. Room reservations, passport services, and in-person classes & events are temporarily cancelled, but virtual programming is happening now. Get the details here: myLibrary.org/covid-19