This week Oxford Dictionaries decided to announce that their word of the year was ‘post-truth’. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, and trust me I sometimes wish I had been as a survival technique, the way in which information has been passed around especially within the political world has been quite striking in its emotive overtones with an emphasis on how facts make people feel as opposed to how objective those facts may be.
As librarians, a large part of our professional skill set is helping people find information that is accurate and making sure that people are equipped with the right skills to be able to identify any bias behind that information, good or bad. In the world of the internet of course, anyone can put anything online for a variety of different reasons and with a variety of different intentions in mind and how those things are then absorbed by the average member of the public can be problematic.
From misplaced fears over vaccines causing autism to suggestions that terrorists are everywhere, especially within minority and/or refugee groups, the public are easily swept up by media reports designed to terrify and create hysteria. With the recent US presidential election results being blamed on both this concept of post-truths as well as issue of fake news on Facebook, as exposed by a recent Buzzfeed investigation (yes they do serious journalism too), the proliferation of extreme views across the internet as well as mistrust of…well…anything, how do we as information professionals help counter what is going on?
While I don’t have all the answers, I do have some thoughts.