Fake News, Alternative Facts and Librarians As Dedicated Defenders of Truth
Let's be clear, there's no such thing as "alternative facts."
The same fact can be used by different people to support alternative opinions, but the facts don't change. Different people can use the same facts to emphasize alternative ideas or to inform different theories, but the facts remain the same. Facts are non-partisan. Facts alone are neutral. It's what we do with them that becomes controversial.
That said, there's a not so old saying that goes "we are drowning in information, but starving for knowledge." (Note: the fact that this saying is attributed to at least 5 different people when I do a quick search for the author is an irony that has not escaped me, but I digress). These days, getting answers to your questions is just about the easiest thing in the world. Getting the right answer is more challenging. Librarians (and Neil Gaiman) have known this for years, but one thing is certain, in the information age, discerning fact from fiction is THE "21st century skill."
I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that there's a battle being waged between the truth and those who seek to distort it for personal gain. This battle is why conversations about what is actually true and what has been created to look like fact, but actually seeks to further an agenda, can be painful. When a resource supports or disproves deeply held beliefs, reactions can be charged. Plus, since so many of these conversations occur behind the shield of the keyboard, it's easy for things to devolve quickly. To that end, I created this flyer to help school librarians, and other educators, guide their students in objectively evaluating online "news." It's not enough to simply create a list of "safe sites," especially for our middle and high school students. We MUST do the work of helping students evaluate all the resources they come across. By only offering them "safe search" options behind the walls of vetted databases or careful curated resource lists, we fail to arm them with the tools they need to spot the fake stuff when we're not around to restrict them. In that endeavor, I hope it will prove useful.
Full size (11x17) PDF for download.
Regardless of how you choose to tackle this issue, school librarians have an opportunity and obligation to lead the charge in helping grow a generation of students who:
cannot be duped by "fake news."
know instantly that "alternative facts" are like unicorns: nice to dream about perhaps, but don't actually exist.
are armed with the tools necessary to discern fact from fiction no matter how slickly the latter is packaged.
This is our charge. You have the skills. The tools are emerging are getting better. The way is here. We just need the will. It may not be easy, but our students need us to be brave. Further reading:
Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds
Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world
Fact or Fiction? 8 TED-Ed Videos and a TED Talk to Show To Your Students
The Smell Test: Educators can counter fake news with information literacy. Here’s how.