Separating Fact from Fiction

People often ask me, “They still have librarians? Isn’t it all on the internet?”

I respond to these questions that, as a librarian, part of my job is simply getting people to believe that they can’t necessarily trust what they read on the internet.

The coronavirus crisis reminds me continually of the importance of librarians and how much work we still need to do to help others see that, too.

An Infodemic

The World Health Organization has used the term infodemic” to describe the flood of inaccurate information about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 that can make it difficult for people to find the information they need. Social networking is playing a major role in spreading this misinformation: according to CNN, this problem has gotten so bad that WhatsApp Messenger (a text and voice app) have had to limit the amount of times a message can be forwarded to one in order to slow the spread of false information.

a woman wearing a mask looking at an image on a laptop
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Combating the Infodemic

Librarians have been sharing tools to combating misinformation for years, and these tools are as key to combating the coronavirus infodemic — after all, the information literacy skills taught by librarians are meant to go beyond the classroom. They are life skills, and if there was ever a time to apply those skills, this is it.

A key information literacy concept is seeking authoritative information. This means that the person or organization providing information is an expert in the topic he or she is commenting on. In the case of the coronavirus, an appropriate person to provide medical information would be a doctor who is a specialist in infectious diseases and epidemiology, and an example of an authoritative organization is the World Health Organization (WHO) or The Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Mythbusting Websites

It can be hard to sort out incorrect information on your own. Below are some websites that can help you debunk coronavirus/COVID-19 myths and rumors:

Snopes.com is a well-known website devoted to exposing disinformation. This includes discussing the validity of myths relating to COVID-19. It can be accessed at https://www.snopes.com/

Brandon Harrington, Library Assistant at Starrett City has created an excellent Fake News LibGuide. Addition fact checking websites listed there are:

A Ray of Hope

Beyond these authoritative resources, we can look to well-qualified people to connect us with accurate information, too. Someone I have come to respect throughout the coronavirus crisis has been Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

As a librarian, I appreciate that he answers questions by stressing the importance of making decisions based on quality data, rather than on personal beliefs, assumptions, or anecdotal information. The peer-reviewed studies he praises are the same type of studies we help our students and faculty find every day.

doctor anthony fauci
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Credit: NIH

Conclusion

While the coronavirus crisis has led to a flood of misinformation, we hope you find this post helps you find ways to separate the fact from fiction and to find accurate voices to listen to — and know that you can always call on a librarian for help.

This post was contributed by Michael Kahn, Librarian, Touro College School for Lifelong Education

References

ACRL. (n.d.). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

FactCheck. (2020). https://www.factcheck.org/

Gold, H. (2020, April 7). WhatsApp tightens limits on message forwarding to counter coronavirus misinformation. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/tech/whatsapp-misinformation-forward-limit/index.html

Harrington, B. (2020, February 13). Fake News: How to spot Fake News. [LibGuide]. http://libguides.tourolib.org/fakenews

PolitiFact. (n.d.). https://www.politifact.com/

Quinnipiac University. (n.d.). April 8, 2020 – Fauci, governors get highest marks for response to coronavirus, Quinnipiac University National Poll finds; Majority say Trump’s response not aggressive enough. https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3658

The Washington Post Fact Checker. (n.d.). https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/?utm_term=.24060580321d

United Nations. (n.d.). UN tackles ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and cybercrime in COVID-19 crisis. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19

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