Librarians can combat 'fake news,' panel says

  • From left, Jim Davis, Daily Herald DuPage/Fox Valley news director; Katie Hauser, Elgin High School librarian; Margaret Peebles, of the Gail Borden Public Library; and Veronda Pitchford, of Reaching Across Illinois Library System participated in the "Librarians vs. Fake news" discussion panel Tuesday at Gail Borden Public Library.

      From left, Jim Davis, Daily Herald DuPage/Fox Valley news director; Katie Hauser, Elgin High School librarian; Margaret Peebles, of the Gail Borden Public Library; and Veronda Pitchford, of Reaching Across Illinois Library System participated in the "Librarians vs. Fake news" discussion panel Tuesday at Gail Borden Public Library. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • About 60 people attended a panel discussion Tuesday on "Librarians vs. Fake news" at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

      About 60 people attended a panel discussion Tuesday on "Librarians vs. Fake news" at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The "Librarians vs. Fake news" discussion at the Elgin library was live-streamed on YouTube.

      The "Librarians vs. Fake news" discussion at the Elgin library was live-streamed on YouTube. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

When the mission of librarians is to promote knowledge and literacy, who better to help people figure out which sources to trust while combating the spread of fake news?

No one, was the consensus of the "Librarians vs. Fake news" panel held Tuesday at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, who also put out a call to action to librarians everywhere.

The fake news phenomenon that has garnered national attention in recent months is about deliberately deceiving people to get them to buy into specific belief systems, said Bob Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association.

Most worrisome is that people are labeling as "fake news" legitimate information from reputable sources only to confirm their own biases, he said. "'Fake news' has rapidly become a catch-all term to discredit all types of stories," he said. "Most often, well, the ones we disagree on."

Young people especially are vulnerable, because they are quick to share information on social media but often can't tell the difference between legitimate and disreputable websites, said Elgin High School Librarian Katie Hauser.

According to a report released in November by the Stanford History Education Group, more than 80 percent of students surveyed believed that an ad with the words "sponsored content" was a real news story.

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That's exactly where librarians can help, Hauser said, pointing to her work in training students to spot those crucial differences, which in turn helps them in their school work. Elgin Area School District U-46 is moving toward incorporating digital media literacy as early as kindergarten and preschool, she added.

"We all have to band together to get this critical thinking stuck in people's heads," Hauser said.

Margaret Peebles, division chief of public services at Gail Borden, said determining what is fake news is about media literacy -- for adults and youths alike. "In this era of fake news, evaluating what you see online is becoming more and more complicated, even for the savviest adults," she said.

And even librarians aren't immune to the lure of false or biased information, Peebles said, acknowledging she once was fooled by a fake story, relayed by a patron, about actor Tom Hanks falling off a cliff in New Zealand.

People can add extensions to their Chrome or Firefox internet browsers that turn windows red to alert about ads and sponsored content, Peebles suggested. Also, people should avoid websites that end with "lo" and "com.co" and can fact check via such websites as politifact.com and factcheck.org, she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's not my place to tell anyone what they should think, but I can help them see where the source came from," she said.

Everyone needs to be more thoughtful, including the news media, Doyle said. "The temptation to get people to click, no matter why or on what, may be hard to resist," he said. "No one is blameless."

Indeed, newspapers have to become even better at what they do in the face of unprecedented scrutiny, pressure and accusations of bias, said Jim Davis, DuPage/Fox news director for the Daily Herald.

Headlines are crucial, because conveying meaning while ensuring accuracy in just a few words can be especially tricky, he said.

But a great challenge to the media is the public's perception of it, partly fueled by statements by President Donald Trump, Davis said. "When the president of the United States can call CNN and The New York Times 'fake news,' clearly we have a perception problem."

Veronda J. Pitchford, director of membership development and resource sharing for the Reaching Across Illinois Library System, said it's more critical than ever for librarians to be proactive and ensure people are getting reliable information, said.

"We want libraries to be the rock stars of their community," she said.

The discussion was live-streamed via YouTube in some classrooms at Elgin High School and libraries across the state. It can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=M6Gvs_KZ9uM. For more information on resources, visit gailborden.info/fakenews.

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