Role of LIS professionals to combat against Fake news
Abstract: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has a great role in the development of the present society. On the other hand, due to impact of ICT in general and social media in particular, society faced one of its biggest threats of this time – “Fake news”. The dictionary defines this term as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. The main concern about fake news is that it has the ability to polarize society. There are a lot of ideas that fake news took important role in many election procedures, fake news has led to violence in countries. Different countries have already started to take initiatives against this evil; governments are increasingly turning to legislation to combat fake news. Besides legislation, other measures being increasingly adopted to counter fake news, including fact-checking and debunking. But awareness and education among people are more important than any government law to stop fake news. For this study, a lot of online sources and websites of LIS organizations have studied to find out the overview of fake news and how LIS professionals are working to combat against this evil. Despite a long history of public engagement, Libraries are currently facing severe existential crisis. New services and activities are required for their sustainability. Helping to combat against fake news can offer libraries a variety of opportunities to integrate and collaborate with communities in new ways. LIS professionals should look at participation in this programme through library services in a positive light.
Keywords: Fake news, Misinformation, False news, Digital wildfire, Hoax, Clickbait, LIS professionals
Since inception libraries play a significant role in the welfare of the society. It has a social mission and is devoted to the development of the community. It has been providing information for education, leisure and entertainment for decades and hopefully will continue this function for many more years. Libraries always dealt with education and offer learning opportunities that can boost up economic, social and cultural development. White (2012) argued that libraries always play a fundamental role in society as gateways to knowledge and culture. The resources and services offered by them create opportunities for learning, support literacy and education, and help to shape the new ideas and perspectives that are important to an innovative society. They also help by ensuring authentic record of knowledge created and accumulated by past generations. It can clearly be said that it would be difficult to advance research and human knowledge or preserve the world’s cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations without the help of library.
From the last decade of the 20th century Information and Communication Technology (ICT) makes a huge change in the society. ICT has tremendous impact on Library operations, resources, services, staffs and users also. Library professionals are demanding extensive and effective utilization of ICT in order to survive and meet the changing complex information needs of the user community. It has changed the role of library and information professionals who are responsible for delivering online information service as per actual user needs (Banerjee and Chakraborty, 2013).
Each and every coin has two different sides. ICT in one hand has a betterment enhancement role in our life. One of the best examples of ICT’s positive side is social media. Social media helps the creation and sharing of different forms of expression, information, ideas, and interests via virtual community. The statistic shows the number of social media users worldwide was 0.97 billion in 2010 and 2.47 billion in 2017. It is estimated that there will be around 3.02 billion social media users around the globe in 2021 (Number of social network users worldwide from 2010 to 2021, n.d.). On the other side, ICT has a lot of negative effects also. Due to ICT in general and social media in particular, society faced one of its biggest threats of this time – “Fake news”.
Sullivan (2018) provided an outline of the librarian’s approach to misinformation in the United States, discusses its shortcomings and points out the possible steps for resolving the problem.
This article tried to aware LIS professionals about the source, impact and methods of addressing the issue of fake news.
2. Objectives of the work
The present study tried to present an introductory view of fake news. The work does not present any original findings but presents many useful tools to LIS professionals for their thinking and addressing the problem. Objectives of this work are mainly of two folds –
i. To present an overview of fake news; and
ii. To discuss how LIS professionals can help to combat against fake news.
3. What is Fake news?
Although the concept of fake news or misinformation has a long history but the term ‘fake news’ became popular in the year 2016 at the time of US presidential election. During and after his presidential campaign and election, Donald Trump popularized the term “fake news” by using it several times to describe the negative press coverage about himself. The term became so popular that it had been announced as the Collins Word of the Year 2017. The dictionary defines this noun as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting” (Collins dictionary, n.d.). Michael Radutzky of CBS 60 minutes described it as “stories that are provably false, have enormous traction in the culture, and are consumed by millions of people. (What’s “fake news”? 60 Minutes producers investigate, n.d.).
The headlines such as ‘Pope backs Trump’, and ‘FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead’ going viral on Facebook and gaining thousands of shares, likes and followers, played the most important role than offline election campaigns of the US presidential election of 2016. The news like ‘GPS tracking nano-chip based 2000 rupee note’, ‘Astronaut shared lit-up picture of India in Diwali night’, ‘Hilarious memes of this fake photo of world leaders from the G20 Summit’ are all falls under the category of misinformation and fake news. (Fake News alert!, 2017)
There are lots of examples of misinformation throughout history. It was used by Nazi propaganda machines to build anti-Semitic feelings. In the 1800s in the US, a lot of false stories about African Americans’ supposed deficiencies and crimes were published due to racist sentiment. In the 1890s Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst, two rival newspaper publishers competed over the audience through sensationalism and reporting rumors as though they were facts. These types of practice became known at the time as “yellow journalism” (Center for Information Technology and Society – UC Santa Barbara, n.d.).
Few more words are almost synonymous with ‘fake news’ –
· Digital wildfire – It is false or sensitive information that spreads very rapidly over the Internet. In 2012, a Twitter user impersonating a Russian interior minister tweeted that the Syrian President had been “killed or injured” which cause crude oil prices to rise before traders realized that the president was alive and well. (Macmillan dictionary, n.d.)
· Hoax – Falsehood deliberately fabricated to masquerade as the truth is called hoax.
(Oxford dictionary, n.d.)
· Clickbait – It refers to a headline or the leading words of a social media post written to attract attention and encourage visitors to click a target link to a longer story on a web page (Potthast et.al., 2016). Almost everybody is familiar with ‘Man tries to hug a wild lion, you won’t believe what happens next’ or ‘Ishant, Jadeja abuse each other on the field’ types of Clickbait.
4. Why people fall for fake news?
The use of mobile telephone with high speed internet making easy access to social media sites have made the fake news to flourish in a large scale. There is a theory that people falls for fake news due to a feature of human thinking called cognitive biases. “A cognitive bias is a gap in reasoning, remembering, or evaluating something that can lead to mistaken conclusions”. With relation to fake news four types of cognitive biases are pertinent:
i. We have a tendency to act on the basis of headlines and tags without reading the associate full article.
ii. Signals conveyed by social media affect our sense of the popularity of information, which leads us to greater acceptance.
iii. Fake news takes advantage of the political biasness. And
iv. There is a weird tendency for false information to stick around, sometime even after it’s correction. (Center for Information Technology and Society – UC Santa Barbara, n.d.)
Recent research of BBC has shown that nearly 72% of Indians struggled to distinguish real information from made-up stories. The report also shows that a rising tide of nationalism in India is driving ordinary citizens to spread fake news. These results suggest the need for greater digital literacy in India. (BBC News, n.d.)
5. Effects of fake news on society
In the last decade of the previous century the World has seen a gradual shift from one ‘I’ to another ‘I’ — from the ‘Industrial based society’ to ‘Information based society’. Information and particularly its raw form ‘data’ have a crucial role in this society. Value of information is now well recognized at various levels of information based society. Information is continuously being generated at an unbelievable rate. To denote the phenomenon, the term “Information Explosion” is used. It has created serious problems of communication and is getting more complex and difficult to manage by the day. This growing importance for information-rich society paired with high speed flow of data dispersed via internet have made many to use information and technology for wrong purposes, propagating false information and manipulating the general public to accept their views and act upon accordingly to message. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2017) opined that fake news intensify social conflict to undermine people’s faith in the democratic process and people’s ability to work together. It also distracts people from important issues so that these issues remain unresolved. The main concern about fake news is that it has the ability to polarize society. There are a lot of ideas that fake news took an important role in US presidential election of 2016 or in 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election. Fake news has led to violence in countries like India and Myanmar. Everybody can recall a lot of incidents of riot in last few years just for rumors. Fake news and unsubstantiated rumors on social media have caused significant damage to several companies of late. In 29th September 2018, an Indian e-commerce company Infibeam Avenues Limited lost about 70% of its market value in a single day after a message was circulated on Whatsapp among traders, raising concerns about the company’s ill financial conditions (Patwa, 2018). One of the biggest factors behind the success of fake news is its social engagement. Social network connects us with other likeminded people whom we think generally shares same social, political or economic values and beliefs. The information we share through these networks helps to define our identity and believes on different aspects. This identity is then reinforced the more we read similar news stories shared through our social network, confirming our ideas and biases. And herein lies the underlying force that propagates false information and further polarizes society’s partisan. (The impact of fake news, n.d.)
6. Initiatives to combat against fake news
It is the high time to combat against fake news. Different countries have already started taking initiatives against this evil; governments have started to enact legislation to combat fake news. Current report (Henley, 2018) shows that in early 2018, Germany enforced an online hate speech law which has a provision of fine up to €50m against spreading false news and racist materials. In April 2018, European countries announced EU wide code of practice and an independent network to combat the spread of false news. Government of Malaysia has passed a law setting fines of up to £88″,000 and jail terms of up to six years for offenders who use digital publications and social media to spread fake news. Thailand enacted a cyber security law making liable to a jail term of up to seven years for spreading of false information. The Government of India already tried to pass a rule to punish journalists responsible for spreading fake news, however due to political reasons unable to enact (Kumar, 2018). The West Bengal is also working on a new law to tackle the menace of fake news and posts on social media. (West Bengal plans new law to tackle fake news on social media, 2018)
Besides legislation, other measures are also being adopted to counter fake news, including fact-checking and debunking. Since its inception in 2015, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) supports international collaborative efforts in fact-checking, provides training and has published a code of principles. It also produced a short animation explaining its fact checking process, which involves “extra checks and balances, including blind peer review by a second academic expert, additional scrutiny and editorial oversight” (Creagh, 2018)
Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara have a very good documentation on fake news – what is it and how one can check the data fact. (Center for Information Technology and Society – UC Santa Barbara, n.d.)
Factcheck.org has enlisted some precautions to spot fake news (Kiely and Robertson, 2016):
· Consider the source
· Check the author
· Read beyond the headline
· What’s the support?
· Check the date
· Is this some kind of joke?
· Check your biases
· Consult the experts
Beside this, a lot of platforms are available in web for authentication, verification, or fact-checking the truthfulness of news stories. Some of them have been represented in the following table.
Table 1: Major fact checking service
What they do
Facebook (tips to spot fake news, n.d.) has suggested some tips to spot fake news:
· Be skeptical of headlines: Don’t fall for heading only because most false news stories often consist of catchy headlines with exclamation points.
· Look closely at the link: Most of the time fake news sites imitate authentic news sources by making a little change to the link. So be aware about a look-alike link.
· Investigate the source: It is always advisable to ensure that a story is written by a reputed and trusted source. When a story came from an unfamiliar organization, try to check the “About” section to know more about its credibility.
· Watch for unusual formatting: Misspellings or awkward layouts are also sign of fake news sites.
· Consider the photos: False news stories often contain manipulated, taken out of context images or videos.
· Inspect the dates: False news stories may contain altered event dates or timelines that make no sense.
· Check the evidence: It is always a good practice to check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate.
· Look at other reports: If news came only from one source and if no other news source is reporting the same then it may indicate that it is false.
· Is the story a joke? Try to check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details suggest it may be just for fun.
· Some stories are intentionally false: Try to think critically about the stories you read.
7. Role of IFLA
IFLA always believed “Critical thinking is a key skill in media and information literacy, and the mission of libraries is to educate and advocate its importance.” In November 2017, the EU launched a consultation on fake news and how to fight against it. In its response, IFLA underlines that the regulation and government intervention is not sufficient because it is mainly linked to the Internet as a way of spreading intentional misinformation. Rather skills for all and at all stages of life will make the difference. In 2016 FactCheck.org published an article ‘How to spot fake news’. Based on this article, IFLA designed one infographic with eight simple steps. They requested everybody to download, print, translate and share it at home, at library, in local community and on social media networks. The infographic has been translated already in 41 languages, including Bengali. (How to Spot Fake News, n.d.)
Figure 1: Infographic designed by IFLA to spot fake news (Source: IFLA)
8. Suggestions for LIS professionals
It is clear from the above discussion that people’s awareness and education are more important than any government law to stop the evil like fake news. LIS professionals always help their patrons to find legitimate information sources through their regular services. But to combat against fake news they have to take some proactive roles also. LIS professionals across all sectors of libraries have to help their patrons to develop the ability and confidence to make the best use of information and to apply critical thinking to the information they consume so that they can recognize and be able to avoid sharing false or fake news. They may take following measures-
· Sharing the infographic designed by IFLA in their library website, notice board so that every user can view this and be aware about the process to identify fake news.
· May try to design a gateway of online knowledge on a particular subject which will act as a single point of access to all available online information, as well as a gateway of resources. The gateway will help users to avoid duplicate work before starting a new work or to find an authentic source. The Knowledge hub on biotechnology information for India is one example of such type of work. (Banerjee, 2014).
· If any news become viral in very short time LIS professionals may check its authenticity and can share it with their users as a current awareness service.
· Awareness of users is more important. LIS professionals should arrange user orientation programme, short lecture or seminar in a regular interval to aware their users about the danger of fake news and steps to identify fake news.
The problem of fake news is almost known to everybody. But in most of the cases people become the part of spreading fake news unknowingly. The main and most important reason is their ignorance about online resources. A lot of people are still not aware about the fake and illegitimate websites. To stop this problem people’s awareness and willingness to identify fake news is most important. LIS professionals can help them in this awareness programme. On the other hand, despite a long history of public engagement, Libraries are currently facing severe existential crisis. New services and activities are required for their sustainability. Helping to combat against fake news can offer libraries a variety of opportunities to integrate and collaborate with communities in new ways. LIS professionals should look at participation in this programme through library services in a positive light.
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