by Megan Franks, Late Night Library Supervisor
“Fake news” is a prolific new buzzword in our world of 24-hour news cycles and endless instantly shareable internet content, but the concept is really nothing new at all. Fake news is simply any kind of misinformation published for any reason other than to actually inform–it can be anything from propaganda published to influence an election to a satirical article published to poke fun and mislead unwary readers. Fake news can take many forms in this day and age, and it is important to be aware of all of these forms.
Why is it important to be aware of the existence of fake news? We live in a world of “post-truth” and “alternative facts” –where just about anyone can say just about anything, and if it sounds plausible, someone will probably believe it. Fake news is prevalent in every aspect of our lives. The political realm, especially, is rampant with fake news; it can be difficult to pick which side, if any, is telling the truth when there are so many “alternative truths” out there.
Books like #Republic: Divided democracy in the age of social media by Cass R. Sunstein and Reality bites: Rhetoric and the circulation of truth claims in U.S. political culture by Dana L. Cloud explain some of the problems our democracy faces in the era of fake news, and how we the people are swayed and “worked” by these alternative facts.
Fake news has the potential to negatively influence every aspect of our lives–our health, our professions, our cultures. Imagine the danger, for example, of a fake news article posted on the satirical website The Onion, as described in the book The Onion and philosophy: Fake news story true, alleges indignant area professor by Sharon Kaye. Kaye discusses a fake news item describing how to cure diabetes using jelly beans–a potentially lethal read for the unsuspecting reader. This is why it is important to learn to recognize all the different forms fake news can take–as well as why it’s important to learn how to combat this threat.
The library has many resources for you to use in your battle against fake news–because, yes, fake news can potentially affect your academic life, too. You may well use these resources as you make choices in your personal life, but it is important to use them in your academic research, as well, to maintain your reliability and the credibility of your research. The library’s guide on Fake News is a great place to start. This guide can teach you how to look critically at a source–an article, a website, an eBook, whatever it may be–and evaluate it for quality and truthfulness.
The evaluation doesn’t stop there, either–one must learn to fact check independently rather than relying solely on the source at hand. Books such as How to lie with statistics by Darrell Huff and Weapons of math destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy by Cathy O’Neil describe how easily numbers, statistics, and so-called facts can be manipulated in trying to prove one’s point.
Fake news is both a problem and a fact of life. While it may never be completely eradicated, one needs to understand how to fight it. For more information on the different ways fake news affects our lives, check out the materials mentioned above, as well as the other items currently on display in Smith Library:
You can pick up (or print out and share with friends) our handy bookmark with tips to remind you how to detect fake news.
As always, if you need help evaluating the credibility of any information source, HPU librarians are available 24/7. Just drop by, call, e-mail or chat!