Fact or Fiction – Information Literacy
In today’s busy world with the rush for reporters to be the first to report it live on TV or publish their story online or in print, many times stories go live without the in-depth fact-checking of the past. Some of this misinformation is purposeful by journalists who are trying to make a name for themselves, but some is purely by accident, whether from not checking their sources or from exaggerating the news. This has led to some famous news stories about journalists with sensationalist articles which often later cost them their jobs when the facts were finally checked. Note how misinformed news stories have existed for decades (and actually over a century, as in the 1890s, it was known as “Yellow Journalism”):
- 1981: Janet Cooke: The fabulist who changed journalism
- 1998: Stephen Glass: Read The Original Forbes Takedown Of Stephen Glass
- 2001: Jay Forman: MONKEY TROUBLE: Slate Admits Faked Monkeyfishing Story
- 2002: Christopher Newton: Fib Newton
- 2003: Jayson Blair: Why he did it: Jayson Blair opens up about his plagiarism and fabrication at the New York Times
- 2004: Jack Kelley: USA Today says reporter falsified major stories
- 2012: Jonah Lehrer: The Fall of Jonah Lehrer
- 2015: Brian Williams: Brian Williams admits that his story of coming under fire while in Iraq was false
- 2017: Three journalists leaving CNN after retracted article
- 2020: Fox News Admits Error. It’s Now Become a Constitutional Issue.
As you can see from this, it truly points out that we all need to learn to evaluate what we are reading, seeing or hearing. As State Farm pointed out in its fun commercial, you can’t always believe what’s on the internet (or on TV or the Radio or in a Book, Newspaper, or Magazine, even!) A former infomercial star who became an author of a series of books with the byline “’They’ Don’t Want You To Know About,” Kevin Trudeau is currently serving time due to violations with the Federal Trade Commission. And the reason he is a ‘former infomercial star’ is that he is banned from making anymore infomercials due to deceptive advertising.
For more about the history and facts of misinformation put out as true news stories, here are some interesting books in print and online to check out:
- Holzer, Harold. The Presidents Vs. The Press: The Endless Battle Between The White House And The Media–From The Founding Fathers To Fake News. New York: Dutton Books, 2020.
- Singh, Shiv. Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders and Fake News in the Post-trust Era. Washington, DC. Ideapress Pub., 2019.
- Attkisson, Sharyl. The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote. New York: Harper, 2017.
- Schwartz, A. Brad. Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News. New York: Hill & Wang, 2015.
- Plus, Hoopla has 18 eBooks on Fake News.
- And OverDrive has 23 titles to choose.
Admittedly, it’s easy to go with the sensational stories which appeal to our emotions – we see them shared virally online through social media posts on Facebook. Who doesn’t want to click to read about a story on a 2-headed cow or some story promoting a health remedy that cures all ills? They have become so prevalent that it is part of why they say we are living in a “Post-Truth” era. (For more about the Post-Truth era, I recommend reading through the online articles in The Post-Truth Issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.)
But, while sensational, emotional stories may be fun to read and hold our attention, it’s also important to check to see how real are these stories – how truthful, meaning based on actual facts. Plus, there’s another reason to take care – some of those links with sensational headlines, known as Clickbait, could be created by hackers with a virus attached which will infect your computer if you follow the link!
So, how do you go about evaluating these stories that you read-see-hear?
The library has created a web page with links to help resources just for that:
We have it linked on many webpages for you:
- Consumer Information Resources
- General Resources
- History & Culture Resources
- Homework Resources
- Learning Resources
- Magazines, Newspapers & Media Resources
Plus, for those looking to check medical information, we have another helpful webpage:
which is linked on the Health Resources webpage.
Both of these library web pages provide helpful tips for not only how to evaluate information you find, but also include lots of web resources to visit to learn more about checking facts.
Here are three popular information evaluation tests:
One great way to check information is to apply the CRAAP test, which is an acronym that stands for checking:
- C – Currency – When was the information published or last updated?
- R – Relevance – Does the article answer your information need?
- A – Authority – What is the source of the information? Is the author listed? Any credentials?
- A – Accuracy – How reliable is it? Is there any proof provided or facts you can check?
- P – Purpose – What is the reason for the article? Informational? Educational? Commercial? Is it biased?
To see an example of using this test, check out this video from Seneca Libraries.
Another, similar way to test information out is the SMART check, which stands for:
- S – Source – Who or what is the source?
- M – Motive – Why do they say so?
- A – Authority – Who wrote the story?
- R – Review – Go over the story carefully.
- T – Two-source Test – Double check everything if possible.
And there’s the ABCs of website evaluation, which stands for:
- A – Accuracy – Based on facts?
- A – Authority – What are the author’s credentials?
- B – Bias/Objectivity – Is there a particular slant to the story? Is it selling something?
- C – Currency/Timeliness – Check for a date on the story.
- C – Coverage – Is the information comprehensive?
Along with performing your own tests to check out information you find, there are useful websites which will help you.
- Snopes.com is great for checking out a headline to see is it just a fake story or is it real.
- FactCheck.org is also very helpful to check out stories
- Hoax-Slayer.net is very good at identifying scams
- Media Bias/Fact Check will check out the bias on any source
You can even add a browser plug-in to automatically check out websites for you:
- Ad Detector (Chrome, Firefox)
- Media Bias Fact Check Icon (Chrome, Firefox)
- NewsGuard (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari)
In addition, you can always email, call, or ask a librarian to help you with checking out the facts behind a story. We’re trained information professionals, many of us with advanced degrees in information literacy, and our jobs are to teach you and empower you with how to access and understand information.
And, finally, if you’re looking for information on a specific topic, start at the library’s research databases instead of an internet search. Our online resources have already done part of the work of evaluating information for you by selecting quality information sources.
And we have these books, eBooks, and DVDs available for you:
- Digital Media Literacy. Fighting Misinformation. Course Guidebook. Chantilly, VA: Great Courses, 2020.
- Digital Media Literacy. Fighting Misinformation. Chantilly, VA: Great Courses, 2020.
- Rosling, Hans. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. New York: Flatiron Books, 2018.
- Seife, Charles. Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? New York: Viking, 2014.
- Hoopla has 33 ebooks related to Information Literacy.