the problem with fake news

Fake news: a golden opportunity for your library

February 1, 2017
Clare Brown

Many people choose to consume their news and information through social media. Fake news or misinformation can easily be shared with a vast number of readers in an incredibly short period of time. Adding to this concern, the more shares, likes or comments a story has on social media, the more likely someone is to interpret it as authentic.

How easy is it to be duped by online information?

According to the Pew Research Center, 53% of American adults use social media to source their news. A recent evaluation from the Stanford History Education Group labelled the ability of young people to reason about information on the internet as “troubling”. Whilst younger generations may be incredibly adept at using multiple forms of social media, the report determined that they are easily duped when it comes to interpreting the information within.

  • Fifty-two percent of students believed a grainy video claiming to show ballot stuffing in the 2016 Democratic primaries (the video was actually shot in Russia) constituted “strong evidence” of voter fraud in the U.S. Among more than 3,000 responses, only three students tracked down the source of the video, even though a quick search turns up a variety of articles exposing the ruse. 
  • Two-thirds of students couldn’t tell the difference between news stories and ads (set off by the words “Sponsored Content”) on Slate’s homepage.
  • Ninety-six percent of students did not consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website’s credibility. Instead of investigating who was behind the site, students focused on superficial markers of credibility: the site’s aesthetics, its top-level domain, or how it portrayed itself on the About page.

So, what does this mean? Well, first off we are seeing a whole host of reports regarding the impact of such news upon the world’s politics (3), with some people suggesting that it has impacted past elections and could affect future ones too. Ultimately, it means that countless people are at risk of being misinformed and taking uneducated actions based upon such misinformation.


How are social media companies combatting fake news?

Companies such as Facebook and Google are taking new measures to try and mitigate the issue, with Facebook recently implementing an option to report a post or story as fake for their independent fact checkers to review. Sites such as are putting together guides for the general public explaining how to spot fake news.

From a business perspective, fake news could pose a significant risk to organisations who are not checking their sources for authenticity or accuracy. We all know that the professions are built upon the sharing of specialised knowledge with clients. Now, imagine how detrimental it would be if a client-facing employee were to share and act upon inaccurate information that they found through their own online searching.

With many fake news sites’ names deceptively similar to those of authentic sources, it could be relatively easy for a tired overworked employee to misread information. Such an instance would undoubtedly be extremely damaging to the organisation’s reputation.

A golden opportunity for library and information services

Subsequently, this example represents a golden opportunity for your library to demonstrate its value in providing high quality, accurate, reliable information. Firstly, fake news is such a hot topic at the moment. This means that more and more people are interested in verifying the reliability of their sources.

Who is better suited to train coworkers on such a matter than the library? This is the perfect chance to share your knowledge with your colleagues, showing off the library’s skills in identifying high quality information.

In doing so, through training colleagues in identifying reliable information sources, you can also market the other services the library provides. From answering reference questions to providing current awareness updates the library has a wealth of services on offer and there’s never been a more relevant time to publicise these to your colleagues.

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