I had the pleasure of attending the South Dakota Library Association Annual Conference in Spearfish. Like the beautiful landscape surrounding it, I found the conference engaging and inspriring. The first day I presented a preconference on linked data developments in libraries, and the room was full of staff from school, public, and academic institutions. It was heartening to see a high level of interest in the topic. Between presenting and hanging out at the Minitex booth, I attended some great sessions, and had the chance to hear ALA President Wanda Brown speak during a keynote session.
I would also like to summarize an excellent session I attended, Fact vs. Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking in the Age of "Fake News," by Jennifer Lagarde (aka Library Girl). Lagarde focused on the important role we can play as teacher librarians in the age of "fake news." The term is in quotes because fake news is really such a broad term than can encompass propoganda, disinformation, clickbait, and more. After surveying just under 7,000 students, a 2016 report from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) found that "a young person's ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak." The presenter shared additional discouraging information about the proliferation of fake news. On Facebook alone, the total engagements for fake news posts toppled the total number of engagements for mainstream news posts by 1.4 million. Another Pew study from 2018 shows that adults also have a hard time telling the difference between factual and opinion statements. Only 26% of U.S. adults correctly classified five out of five factual statements. It is adults as well as students that struggle with digital information literacy.
As human beings we are biased, and we often look to confirm what we think is true, rather than work to disprove it. Watch this video that was highlighted, to prove the point. The problem of fake news is not new, it's simply that the tools used to create it and carry it are new. With an app on our phone we can easily manipulate a photo and post it online. With video, deep fakes are starting to appear, and as the technology improves it will be harder to tell whether or not the video content we are consuming is authentic. We need additional digital literacy skills to tell whether or not something is authentic. I left the session with the message that we can be heroes in this age of fake news that is disruptive to our democracy and our lives. There is a lot more information about how to do this in the book she co-authored with Darren Hudgins: Fact Vs. Fiction: Teach Critical Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News.
Article image by Sara Ring, taken along Forest Road 222, off of Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway