Fake News - A golden opportunity for your library

February 1, 2017
Clare Brown

Recent global events have generated an influx of discussions surrounding the issue of fake news and the impact it can have upon those who fall into the trap of treating it as a reliable information source.

With so many people, younger generations in particular, choosing to consume their news and information through social media, fake stories 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.

Press Photographer

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center (1), 62% of American adults use social media to source their news. A recent evaluation from the Stanford History Education Group (2) labelled the ability of young people to reason about information on the internet as “bleak”. 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.

“We sought to establish a reasonable bar, a level of performance we hoped was within reach of most middle school, high school, and college students. For example, we would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.

Stanford History Education Group (2016) (2)

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. 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.

The issue is becoming of such concern that psychologists are even saying they can inoculate people against fake news by presenting them with a little bit of misinformation alongside the facts (4). Whilst sites such as FactCheck.org are putting together guides for the general public explaining how to spot fake news (5).

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 (6) 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

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.

 Discover how one organisation took control of their information through technology


  1. Jeffrey Gottfried & Elisa Shearer (2016) News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016, Pew Research Center http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/
  2. Stanford History Education Group (2016) Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf
  3. Kate Connolly, Angelique Chrisafis et al (2016) Fake news: an insidious trend that's fast becoming a global problem, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/02/fake-news-facebook-us-election-around-the-world
  4. CBC News (2017) Psychologists say they can inoculate people against fake news http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/fake-news-climate-change-inoculation-1.3948154?cmp=rss&utm_content=buffer7ba14&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
  5. Eugene Kiely & Lori Robertson (2016) How to Spot Fake News, FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/
  6. BBC News (2016) Fake news in 2016: What it is, what it wasn't, how to help http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-38168792