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The Fire Hose of Falsehood: Fake News and the 2016 Election
Volume 41, Number 2 - March/April 2017

How Can Librarians Help to Mute the Influence of Fake News?

During the NPR interview, Craig Silverman mused on ways to help make fake news less toxic. “I think we do in our schools need to start thinking about how we integrate more media literacy and critical thinking education so that people can make better judgments for themselves.”

Did he say “media literacy”? We librarians stand ready to help! Nicole A. Cooke works at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. In an article from The Verge, she says, “I think the main change we have to confront is really just the volume of information. Librarians [have] always talked about information literacy. Information literacy is just trying to get people to be savvy consumers of information, and getting them to be able to really interrogate the information that is available to them, to see what is quality, to evaluate sources” (Kaitlyn Tiffany, “In the War on Fake News, School Librarians Have a Huge Role to Play,” Nov. 16, 2016; Cooke also notes, “It’s going to be a development issue on our end. I would hope there’s enough conversation that our patrons and students start actually asking for instruction.”

Of course, we humans suffer from confirmation bias, that is, a tendency to accept only information that supports our points of view. This makes it difficult to debunk rumors. In the NPR discussion, Silverman points out, “There’s some emotional resistance to wanting to be wrong.” Debunkers, in general, seem like kind of a spoil sport, he says. “You’re ruining the fun or you’re getting in the way of their beliefs.”

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Irene E. McDermott is Reference Librarian/Systems Manager at the Crowell Public Library, in the City of San Marino, CA.


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