The Library As Superhero! The Ongoing Battle Against Bad information

Closer Look
October 13, 2022

By Mary Wilkins-Jordan
Librarian

It’s election time! That means many lovely and positive things for making our community and world better for everyone. But a not-so-great side effect is that we see an increase in the number of fervent attempts, from all over the place, to change our thoughts with techniques from subtle manipulations to outright huge bald-faced lies. 

Sigh. 

But all is not lost! The library, in the guise of Information Superhero!, is here to help! Information literacy – understanding how to find the best, most reliable, information - is our whole reason for existing. 

Yep. We’re pretty cool. (We try to be modest about it though.) 

The best strategy is to give you the tools to combat misinformation yourself. One handy tool to use is called SIFT, and you have four moves to make: 

  • S: Stop. Just stop. Don’t read, don’t listen, don’t watch. Just stop. 
  • First: Do you know the reputation of this site? Was that story supposed to be a joke, and it was repeated 1,000 times? Do they have clearly overblown, click-bait headlines? If so – maybe just avoid them. 
  • Second: Don’t go down the rabbit hole! It’s too easy to watch one YouTube video, then another suggested one, then – oh look! Another suggested one! And four hours later you are standing on your coffee table, screaming that lizard people are invading from the center of the Earth. Stop yourself way before that happens to you! 
  • I: Investigate the Source. Do you know who writes it, or funds it? If the headline is “CHOCOLATE SAVES YOUR LIFE!” and the story is funded by the Hersey Corporation – maybe be a little skeptical that you are getting the full story. Don’t bother reading things that come from bad sources. 
  • F: Find Better (or other) Coverage. “My sister’s husband’s cousin’s next-door neighbor SWEARS she saw this!” Just no. Whatever comes next from this kind of source: it’s wrong. Maybe with the best of intentions, but at best it’s a small thing and it could be a big horrible attempt at disinformation. Look for a reputable source, a nice nonpartisan place, not somewhere supported by ads to encourage you to be upset and click on their material. 
  • T: Trace Back Claims. “She said This Horrible Thing! I saw it!” Even when the horrible thing meshes beautifully with things you already thing are out there – take a moment. It’s so easy to take a few words, or a couple of sentences, out of context. Pause your reading/viewing/listening, and go look for the original article/video/podcast. Find out what was actually said, what the context around it was, what the intention was. “Oh sure, right” can mean ALL KINDS of things, depending on context. Maybe it means “You Betcha!” Maybe it means “Are you kidding me?” Maybe it means “OF COURSE NOT!” We can’t tell until we see the original context for ourselves. 

The easiest way to avoid getting lost in the disinformation is to break through your information bubble as often as you can! Reach out deliberately to news sources and topics that are not your usual ones. Look deliberately at what other people are saying – people with different backgrounds, interests, religions, ethnicities, jobs, hobbies. It’s a lot harder to flagrantly lie to us about the bad intentions of other people when we know for ourselves. 

And the main thing to take from information literacy? People everywhere pretty much want the same things. We’re basically all pretty good. Most things in the world are pretty good, and getting better. It’s important to remember that. And when you encounter information that tells you differently, remember that it’s in someone’s best interest to make you upset and mad and scared. If a website, a video, or a person is trying to do that – be very suspicious about the truthfulness of their information. You know better. 

Use your tools of Information Literacy – gifts from the Library as Information Superhero! – and bust some bad information today!

Crissy Quigley
Posted in News