For over a year, I’ve been reading about the proliferation of fake news on social media. My interest was first piqued when I read articles about people/companies using “chatbots” to automatically create and disseminate messages on social media channels (e.g., Twitter). Essentially a chatbot is a computer program that can reply to, or create, messages and disseminate them automatically. They can produce one message or thousands. Dissemination and broadcast takes seconds.
Last week I read an article in the New York Times called “In Italian Schools, Reading, Writing and Recognizing Fake News.” The article describes a new program being taught to school children in Italy about how to recognize fake news stories on the internet and social media. The students are taught how to verify resources and spot propaganda, to prevent the spread of damaging messages and news stories.
It’s great that the Italians have decided to start this program, educating their students on how to spot fake news and assess resources. But these skills are nothing new. Ask any librarian, or decent journalist, professions that have specialized in this very thing since their inception. Somewhere along the way, we lost these skills and the desire to have them.
I’m not sure what’s changed since I was a student, but I was always taught to vet my resources, even before becoming a librarian. What is it about the internet, and especially social media, that makes us so willing to believe everything we read without using our judgment?
Three factors exacerbate this problem.
- People are inundated with information and “cool” things to read on the internet (and social media) 24/7. It’s only natural this would cause some fatigue when trying to vet every resource.
- Social media is the perfect medium for spreading news, including fake news, fast. It doesn’t take long for bad information to become part of the main stream.
- The methods used to disseminate fake news are clever. Sometimes fake news can imitate almost perfectly a reputable news source, making it difficult to spot.
The internet has opened up an infinite number of options for receiving and disseminating information. To my librarian sensibilities this means having the skills to discern and evaluate resources are even more critical than before. And yet, it’s all too easy to get what you need from a Google search, without any regard to the credibility and reliability of the resources.