“We live in an age of information overload, including abundant misinformation, unsubstantiated rumors, and conspiracy theories whose volume threatens to overwhelm journalists and the public.” Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Study: “Computational Fact Checking From Knowledge Networks,”
Someone said to me recently that it was easier to be a student before the Internet because most of the information came from print resources which were written by experts in the field and vetted by editors. Therefore the accuracy of the information was not suspect. In this context I do have to agree with my friend. So how can turn students into discerning consumers of information who can vette information without the aid of an editor?
I do wonder about truth. Information and resources are increasing exponentially. Now all of us are potential authors with a world audience. It is part of the soul of every librarian that all have access to information and be able to discern what is valid and what is not. As a librarian and now instructional technology consultant I understand the importance of information literacy. How do we vette information now?
There are ways to get at the truth in the online world however it takes time, knowledge and diligence. Caitlin Dewey, a columnist for the Washington Post, was writing a weekly column entitled; “What was Fake on the Internet” has given up. She posted her last one December 18, 2015. She states that she just can’t keep up with the numbers. So what is an average person to do? Quit reading the Internet? Unlikely.
Here are a few tips.
One of the best ways is to use the advanced search in Google. Click on the gear once you have put in your search topic. You will then have the options to narrow your search by last update, site or domain, exact phrase, and language to name a few. So for instance. I could search for all of the articles about Pope Francis as an exact phrase, then add in the past year with the site .gov. The results are only from U.S. government sites within the last year about Pope Francis.
What’s the first thing you should do if you see a fishy headline? Google the exact headline. You should immediately see links debunking it if it’s fake.
There are some Fact Checking sites available. Of course if I really wanted to be suspicious I would ask who checks these sites. Snopes http://www.snopes.com/ The snopes.com website was founded by David Mikkelson, who lives and works in the Los Angeles area. What he began in 1995 as an expression of his interest in researching urban legends has since grown into what is widely regarded by folklorists, journalists, and laypersons alike as one of the World Wide Web’s essential resources. Both PolitiFact.com, and FactCheck.org check the campaign trail. What about Wikipedia? Here is a link to an article “Using Wikipedia to Automatically Fact-Check the Internet” http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/fact-checking-with-wikipedia
Check the source. Does the About page give any clues as to the sponsors or purpose of the page?
What about the author? Did you know that Twitter and Facebook puts a Blue Check Mark next to their account name if they have verified their occupation?
So why does it matter that much of the information we view and perhaps believe is inaccurate? What decisions do we make based on the information we believe? Political thinkers have long claimed with Jefferson that, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” The idea is obvious: If citizens are going to make even indirect decisions about policy, we need to know the facts about the problem the policy is meant to rectify, and to be able to gain some understanding about how effective that policy would be. In the larger sense, if we are going to decide who runs the country — and we are, if you think the electoral college allows for that — we need to know the facts about the candidates’ records.