Building Information Literacy Skills in the Era of Fake News

Building Information Literacy Skills in the Era of Fake News

By Melissa Hill, Librarian, Lowell School

Back in the day when news outlets were limited to television, radio, and print journalism, it was possible to dismiss fake news as the stuff of celebrity tabloids in the grocery store checkout aisle or the broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” While there has always been fake news, distinguishing between fact and fiction in the digital age has become a more complicated task. As Joyce Valenza, Professor of Library and Information Science at Rutgers, notes in “Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a ‘post-truth’ world”:

News hits us across media platforms and devices, in a landscape populated by all degrees of professional journalists and citizen journalists and satirists and hoaxers and folks paid or personally moved to write intentionally fake news. All of this is compounded by the glories and the drawbacks of user-generated content, citizen journalism, and a world of new news choices.

Yikes! If discerning fact from fiction is this challenging for adults, imagine what it’s like for children.

For all of the amazing technical skills that digital natives possess—they can download and upload videos, remix music, navigate social media websites, create podcasts, edit their own movies—students’ information literacy skills are lagging. The Stanford History Education Group’s 2016 study provides an alarming wake up call:

At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish. Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.

Dire, right? No need to despair!

As librarians we are focused on teaching children how to find, evaluate, and use information efficiently and effectively. The Stanford Study and the increased presence of fake news serve as further confirmation that if we want to raise an informed citizenry and electorate, we need to teach students how to evaluate information and provide them with reliable resources for research.

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