"Are you overwhelmed at the amount, contradictions, and craziness of all the information coming at you in this age of social media and twenty-four-hour news cycles?
Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies will show you how to identify deceptive information as well as how to seek out the most trustworthy information in order to inform decision making in your personal, academic, professional, and civic lives.
• Learn how to identify the alarm bells that signal untrustworthy information.
• Understand how to tell when statistics can be trusted and when they are being used to deceive.
• Inoculate yourself against the logical fallacies that can mislead even the brightest among us."
The author of the book is Donald A Barclay, librarian, who gave an interview to Publisher's Weekly last September. This excerpt mirrors a part of the preface, which I will dictate and post below. Dude sounds like a dang Objectivist here, if a plodder ...
Fake news is certainly a timely topic, but tell me a little bit about the genesis of this book.
Well, the idea started in 2016, when fake news really blew up. And it occurred to me as a librarian that this is nothing new; this is just information literacy. This is about trying to decide what’s credible and not credible, what suits your information need and what doesn’t. Now, there are a lot of books about fake news coming out written from one political position or another. But my intention was to be as politically neutral as possible. Because when you step back and look at it, people at all ends of the political spectrum stretch the truth.
You raise a good point about the rise of fake news—the term’s commonality is new, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Why has today’s information environment made authority such a difficult issue for so many Americans to parse?
Right. Fake news is not new at all. But the incredible volume of information out there in the digital age just blows away anything that existed before, as does the speed at which information travels, and the low cost—almost zero, in fact—at which information can be created and distributed. In 1980, if you had some crackpot conspiracy theory and you wanted to try and influence as many people as possible, you’d have to type something up and go to Kinko’s to make copies. But on the internet today, you can crank out one conspiracy theory idea after another and put them online, where millions of people might see them. And with social media, maybe your friends or your uncle or your mother picks up and reposts one of these things—suddenly, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a stranger; it’s coming from someone you trust, so it feels more intimate, and real.
In talking with librarians, I’ve found that more libraries are now hosting workshops for the public on fake news and information literacy. Information literacy has always been a core mission of libraries, of course, but it certainly seems to have become more urgent. What advice would you give to librarians who are putting together programs like this?
I think the emotional component of information is an important part of this. I’ll give you an example: the recent op-ed published anonymously in the New York Times. People who don’t like Donald Trump are going, “Yeah, we knew that was what was happening.” But what if Breitbart published an anonymous op-ed like that during the Obama administration?
My point is that it is easier to be critical of things that don’t resonate with you. When something does resonate—whether it makes you scared, angry, happy, or smug—those are the things you should probably check out and make sure the information’s credible. It’s really about making good decisions. And the impact information has on someone—if it challenges or reaffirms someone’s deeply held beliefs, for example—will often determine what kind of effort they put into evaluating it.
And the other part of this is that, because we have so much information coming at us these days, it’s just impossible to evaluate it all, right? We have to sort of triage it. And I think that’s important to keep in mind, too, because one of the dangers of this information overload is that people will give up—“It’s all BS, so I’m just going to go with what feels right.” And that’s not a good place to work from—that kind of total cynicism, that everything’s a lie so we might as well not even try.
-- cross-linking here to a dedicated Front Porch topic thread "Fake News," and to a "fake news" OL-internal-search page of this blog, "Friends and Foes." There are at this moment 732 items in the "Fake News" phrase search returns of the whole of the Objectivist Living community.
The subtitle to Barclay's book is "How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age."