Just the Facts

As librarians, we try hard to share real information. Facts. We study how to verify information and how to sort facts from fiction. However, changes in how news is produced and how we find it has made this more difficult. With the advent of social media and its abuse by folks not interested in facts but rather in marketing, political influence or disruption, the face of fact-finding has changed.

On March 20 the library presented a nonpartisan public program titled “Fake News: What’s the Real Story?” with Randall Mikkelsen.  According to Mikkelsen’s bio, he “has worked as a financial and political journalist with Thomson Reuters since he joined Reuters in 1988.” He has covered the White House, Justice Department, CIA and other agencies in Washington, and covered economic and general news from postings in Philadelphia and Stockholm, Sweden. He also served as a Reuters desk editor for the Americas.

So what did we learn? The news world is full of agendas meant to fool and manipulate readers, from advertisers willing to disseminate “click bait” stories that grab our emotions in order to sell merchandise, to Russian bots posting thousands of fake stories to sway voters, to political and cultural organizations looking for a way to influence the public. It is up to us all to learn to navigate this new world of disinformation and find facts on which to base our decisions, by recognizing the ways in which these folks try to fool us.

The basics are simple, but sometimes hard to remember when a Facebook story hits a hot button.  Protect yourself by looking at these things: Where did the story come from? Is it a reputable news organization?  Who wrote it? When was it written? Check the information about the article by looking at the website of origin.  Is it a real site? Click past the headline to other articles on the site. What do they tell you about the website?  Is the web address similar to, but not the same as a real news source? Is it trying to fool you into thinking it is a reputable source with a name or web address that sounds like something else? Take some time to learn about the source. Fake news reports are found across the spectrum of politics, science and culture. An interesting graphic about the reliability of news sources and an interview with Mikkelsen can be found on the website for NHPR’s local talk program The Exchange.

Did you miss this program at the library? Would you like some strategies for protecting yourself from fake news? Check out some of the articles Mikkelsen has written on the topic at Thomson Reuters.

— Pat Fickett, Library Director

(this article appears in part in Circulation Vol. I, Issue 03)

 

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