Fake news | Information literacy | Journalismby Marcus Banks
|Illustration: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries|
Given the care that librarians bring to this task, the recent explosion in unverified, unsourced, and sometimes completely untrue news has been discouraging, to say the least. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of US adults are getting their news in real time from their social media feeds. These are often uncurated spaces in which falsehoods thrive, as revealed during the 2016 election. To take just one example, Pope Francis did not endorse Donald Trump, but thousands of people shared the “news” that he had done so.
Completely fake news is at the extreme end of a continuum. Less blatant falsehoods involve only sharing the data that puts a proposal in its best light, a practice of which most politicians and interest group spokespeople are guilty.
The news-savvy consumer is able to distinguish fact from opinion and to discern the hallmarks of evasive language and half-truths. But growing evidence suggests that these skills are becoming rarer. A November 2016 study by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) showed that students have difficulty separating paid advertising from news reporting, and they are apt to overlook clear evidence of bias in the claims they encounter. These challenges persist from middle school to college.
According to SHEG Director Sam Wineburg, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, “nothing less than our capacity for online civic reasoning is at risk.”