International Fact-Checking Day

April 2 is International Fact-Checking Day. It is apropos that it falls after April Fool’s Day. Unlike the jokes and pranks of yesterday, most of which are done in fun, fake or alternative “facts” are meant to mislead and deceive. The proliferation of outrageous statements and stories are no longer confined to the racks at the supermarket or convenience store checkouts. Neither are they unique to our country but fake news can be found all over the world and at arm’s length on that phone we can’t seem to put away.

This year, Poynter Institute in Florida, partnering with other fact-checking organizations around the globe, has declared this day as our way of “proclaiming the need for strong evidence and solid facts in politics, journalism and everyday life.”  In a meeting last year in Buenos Aires, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a group that promotes fact-checking around the world named today as a day that would bring attention to fact-checking because facts matter. IFCN checks “statements by public figures, major institutions and other widely circulated claims of interest to society.”  Facebook uses IFCN’s code of principles as a minimum condition for being accepted as a third-party fact-checker.

Poynter’s webpage for International Fact-Checking Day has easy to use modules: How to Fact-Check an Urban Legend, How to Spot Fake News, How to Fact-Check Wikipedia Entries, How to Spot Fake Handles on Twitter, How to Fact-Check a Politicians Claim, How to Fact-Check Online Photos and Videos. Plus, you can vote for the the worst of 16 most weird, ridiculous and outright dangerous falsehoods.

Politifact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims made by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics and is a part of the ICFN network and they have listed some ways that we as consumers can help fight the spread of lies and half-truths.  Here are some things you can do:

  • Seek out news sources that have a strong track record for accuracy in their reporting.
  • Find news organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to ethical principles of truthfulness, fairness, independence and transparency.
  • Be very cautious about sharing inflammatory news stories on social media. Take a pause and inspect the source by looking at the web address. Is it a news organization you’ve heard of? Or is it a knock-off.
  • Other signs include low quality graphics, off-kilter logos and too many ads with flashing visuals or pop-ups.

As a librarian, I have always taught student to evaluate websites they use for research based on  these criteria: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and relevancy.  These same criteria can be used to analyze the news that you encounter everyday.  Harvard University has a page that explains these criteria with questions to ask yourself as you evaluate a website.

Barbara Quint, senior editor of Online Searcher in March issue of Information Today writes: “What the world needs now is trustworthy information that can be supplied at the point of request and be immediately available.” In today’s digital environment, this can be a challenge because most people get their information from social media, which is subject to manipulators, conspiracy theorists, fear-mongers. and sensationalists.

But the digital universe might also be the answer because sites like Politifact and Snopes are easily accessible from any smart phone. I do have to say that the most underused resource is the reference librarian. If you haven’t consulted a librarian in a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that we are digital natives and can show you the most accurate and relevant information. Many libraries also have on-line chats and reference service. So if the tips included in this post are not enough and you’d like more wide-breath, in-depth information, just visit the reference desk of the nearest library.

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Information in Peril

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Since the election, watching the news is my daily routine. I can’t seem to turn if off. I feel like if I do, I might just wake up one day and the world has turned upside down. Already it feels off-kilter. As a librarian, I rely on information to be true and reliable but that is not always the case of the alternate reality that Trump and his surrogates would want us to embrace.

Many of my colleagues have taken many measures to combat these “alternative facts” and “fake news.” As guardians of information in many places, librarians are obligated to do so. I am currently not working and I feel discouraged when I see people on the news spewing untruths that they have been fed by Fox News or Breitbart.

But what is more disturbing to me is the attempt to stem the flow of legitimate information from federal agencies. The purpose is obvious. When memos were sent to the EPA and USDA that they cannot release information to the public or use their social media accounts – the government is protecting private business interests. (It’s interesting to note that true patriots have found a work-around for this by using alternative accounts.) Librarians would have none of this. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom condemned this government censorship.

Condemnation is not enough. Together with rogue scientists and coders called “baggers,” librarians saving data and creating a “secure chain of provenance” that will insure that the data is unaltered. Contrary to what most people believe, librarians are very techie. And here their taxonomy skills to match data to descriptors. Those rebels!

“The dissent has spread on social media with the Twitter account @LibrariesResist. Its resources include pages on privacy and surveillance, fake news and propaganda, a ‘Stop Trump’ reading list and a ‘Trump syllabus’ as well as an explanation of libraries as sanctuary places” (PBS.org). Started by Matthew Haugen, a librarian at Columbia University, the hashtags #librariesresist and #librariesrespond have hundreds of posts from librarians who share their acts of opposition.

Our profession advocates the free flow of information so in this age of disinformation, Rebecca McCorkindale, assistant library director in Gretna, Nebraska and creator of the “Libraries are for Everyone” image that has become viral says, “People think that libraries are obsolete. But we’ve stood up against censorship for decades…And with all that’s going on with these executive orders, we will do what we can to help.”

When Trump barred federal agencies from dispersing factual knowledge through their social media accounts, the action created a ripple effect that affected federal scientists. The disappearance of federally-funded has constricted the ability of scientists both here and abroad to continue important research.In order to be better equipped with this changing information landscape, the Association of Science and Technology (ASIS&T) is presenting a webinar “Silencing Science: Attempts to Curb Federal Employees’ Communication with the Public.” It’s free for ASIST members and $15 for non-members. The webinar presenters are Shannon M. Oltman, Asst. Professor at University of Kentucky and A.J. Million, PhD candidate at University of Missouri. They will discuss the larger historical and legal context, the role of social media, how to respond to these actions and what could be the further fallout from these actions.

Together with discrediting the press, this administration has put the state of information in peril. I agree with Sen. John McCain that this is the sign of the a burgeoning dictatorship. If this comes to pass, information integrity will die, along with our democracy.

Sources:

Flock, E. (Feb. 13, 2017). “Why These Librarians Are Protesting Trump’s Executive Orders,” PBS Newshour.

Schlanger, Z. (Jan. 19, 2017). “Rogue Scientists Race to Save Climate Data from Trump,” Wired.com.