It is perhaps no surprise that “fake news” (defined as “news that is factually false, incomplete, or strongly biased,” not “news with which you disagree”) is still a problem; the 24-hour news cycle and the ability to share easily with many people on social media provide an environment where misinformation and disinformation spread quickly and are corrected much less quickly, if at all.
This won’t be solved overnight, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. In fact, there are a number of things!
What can you do?
Get out of your filter bubble. Everyone prefers to read things with which they agree. Be aware of the slant of your usual sources, and find alternate sources on occasion to maintain perspective. No journalism is perfectly objective; read from both sides, and as close to the middle as you can.
Read deeply. Read past the headline. Don’t just skim. And if you encounter something confusing or contradictory…
Triangulate. Check multiple sources to see if they agree with each other. Go outside of social media, directly to trusted news outlets. Try using allsides.com to find several articles on the same topic from different perspectives.
Slow down. The 24-hour news cycle puts pressure on news organizations to publish “breaking” news constantly, sometimes at the expense of high-quality journalism in the public interest. Particularly during disasters or emergencies, when you are tempted to be glued to the news or social media, slow down and…
Limit your consumption. There isn’t that much new, meaningful news every day. Set a time limit for yourself, or choose a certain time of day to check in. Consider waiting half an hour in the morning before tuning in, and don’t check last thing at night, either. (It’s bad for your sleep.)
Check your bias, and your emotional response. If a piece of news provokes a strong emotional response from you – positive or negative – consider whether that was the author’s intention. Remember that clicks equal revenue, so again, be sure to read past clickbait-y headlines to see if the content of the article matches the headline.
Think – and read – critically. Does the author cite sources? Are quotes attributed or anonymous? If there is a graph, chart, or infographic, does the way it represents the information make sense? Statistics can be presented in misleading ways, intentionally or not. (Pie charts, for example, should always add up to 100.)
Believe that good journalism is worth paying for. If you think that high-quality, investigative journalism is worth having, it’s worth paying for. Serious journalists do research, gather and verify eyewitness and expert statements, and sometimes even risk their lives. You don’t have to subscribe yourself – the library has subscriptions to many newspapers and magazines, and you can read them here for free! We have lots of databases you can access too, for example…
- Academic OneFile contains hundreds of podcasts and transcripts from NPR, CNN, and the CBC, as well as full-text New York Times content from 1985, in addition to articles from academic journals
- Local news from the Arlington Advocate (2005-present; older issues are available on microfilm)
- Boston Globe access from 1980-present
- Consumer Reports, a trusted source offering unbiased advice about products and services
- Expanded Academic ASAP includes scholarly journals, magazines and newspapers, with full text and images
- General OneFile contains news and periodical articles
- InfoTrac Newsstand provides access to more than 1,100 major U.S. regional, national and local newspapers as well as leading titles from around the world. It also includes thousands of images, radio and TV broadcasts and transcripts
- The New York Times (1985-present)
- and many more!
Fact-check. Go to Snopes.com, Politifact.com, FactCheck.org, or the Washington Post Fact Checker to verify information that seems dubious, whether it seems too good to be true or too awful to believe.
Engage and listen. People consider their beliefs to be part of their identity, and when someone criticizes those beliefs, it can feel like a personal attack. If you have friends, acquaintances, or family members with different beliefs, engage respectfully with them and listen to what they have to say, and why they hold the beliefs that they do.
Start young. Information literacy and media literacy are important skills that should be taught in school. School librarians – now sometimes called School Library Media Specialists – teach these important skills, but not all schools have certified librarians. Learn more about school library advocacy from the Massachusetts School Library Association.
“Facts and reliable information are essential for the functioning of democracy.” -Katharine Viner, The Guardian
What do libraries and librarians do?
Libraries and librarians do what we have always done: provide access to information. Public libraries are open to everyone and anyone; as journalist, author, and library advocate Caitlin Moran wrote, “They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”
Public libraries provide access to books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, documentaries, and a whole variety of databases. We also provide public computers and wireless internet, so people can search the library catalog and databases, search the internet, and yes, go on social media. Reference librarians answer people’s questions and direct information seekers to the best resources, whether that’s a book, a government website, a newspaper, or something else.
Librarians adhere to the ALA Code of Ethics, which means we offer the highest level of service to all library users; we ensure equitable access; we respond to requests in an unbiased manner, keeping personal beliefs separate from professional duties; we uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist censorship; and we protect library users’ rights to privacy and confidentiality.
True Enough: Learning to live in a post-fact society by Farhad Manjoo (2008)
Being Wrong: Adventures in the margin of error by Kathryn Schulz (2010)
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you by Eli Pariser (2011, 2012)
I Don’t Know: In praise of admitting ignorance and doubt (except when you shouldn’t) by Leah Hager Cohen (2013)
The Organized Mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin (2014)
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs (2017)
“Four Tricky Ways That Fake News Can Fool You,” Daniel J. Levitin, TED Ideas, December 2016
“How to Discern Fake News from Real News,” Marcia Reynolds, Psychology Today, February 2017
“Fake News. It’s Complicated,” Claire Wardle, First Draft News, 2017