Everyone has heard of fake news by now. It’s seemingly everywhere, and in all types of media. How do we wade through all this incorrect information and find out what the real story is?
Last week, Library Information Literacy Director Sara Tabaei and I attended a METRO symposium entitled “(Mis)informed: Propaganda, Disinformation, Misinformation, and Our Culture.” The aim of this one-day meeting was to discuss the underlying issues and ways to teach about all of this incorrect information. It was also an opportunity to see METRO’s new location (which happens to be right by the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum!).
The day began with a keynote from danah boyd*, founder of Data & Society. Her speech was entitled “Hacking the Attention Economy”, and she discussed how misinformation was spread throughout the internet and that suicide rates have increased due to TV series and the media. Her advice to combat this was to create content that gets positive results and builds community.
Next, Ben Himmelfarb of White Plains Library talked about fake news workshops the library offered to the community, both in and outside the library. He starts his workshops by asking his audience, “What is your source of news?”, which immediately reveals biases and stirs up a conversation. He also asks “if anybody has shared information without really reading or watching it”, a question to which a lot of us will embarrassingly say yes. Rachel King of Long Island University then spoke about native advertising, which are stories that are actually advertisements but designed to blend into the wider publication, and sometimes are hard to distinguish from the actual articles. It’s important to know about these and be able to differentiate them from real journalism.
The second keynote, “Data Quest: The Voter File Repatriation Project” was given by Parsons School of Design professor David Carroll. He spoke about how personal data from places like Facebook and voter rolls are being used in sometimes inappropriate and nefarious ways. He is currently involved in a project to reclaim his own data from the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.
After these presentations, the attendees got together into small groups to discuss what propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation were. We also discussed whether libraries are neutral spaces. It was very interesting to hear everyone’s views.
The final two presentations showcased tools useful to wading through all the misinformation out there. Christina Boyle of the College of Staten Island discussed memes, how they can propagate misinformation, and how they can be used in an information literacy class. (I personally plan to stick memes in my instruction whenever I can!). Darcy Gervasio of SUNY Purchase evaluated fake news automatic detection apps. Her conclusion: there’s not yet enough data to show if they work, but some show promise. A couple of apps/extensions she mentioned were Hoaxy and Project FIB. After this, there were breakout sessions with staff of Data & Society.
This symposium was really eye-opening. There are a number of concepts I will discuss with students now, and I hope that with what I’ve learned I can make the struggle of understanding what’s real and what’s not as simple as possible.
Contributed by Carrie Levinson, Scholarly Communications Librarian, Midtown Library