January 17, 2017

Truthiness: the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true (Oxford Dictionary). When Stephen Colbert coined this term in the mid-2000’s, who knew we would come so far in its application?

Today, we live in a world bombarded by information… so much so that “information overload” has become a way of life. But much of our “information” today is from sources that aren’t legitimate or are based heavily in opinion. The internet – for all its charms – is a ripe breeding ground for sharing information, whether or not it’s the truth.

As a society, this presents a great struggle – our hunger for information and the rate at which we adapt to technology is leaving us desensitized to fake news and unable or unwilling to discern the difference. We can no longer simply rely on spoken or written (paper or screen) words as facts and, as citizens, we carry the new burden of learning to decipher real information before we share it or form an opinion based on it. This runs counter to our new daily “read, react, repeat” rituals.

Recently, I read an article by Forbes contributor Kalev Leetaru, “How Data and Information Literacy Could End Fake News.” The article shared examples of how fake news – from misattributed quotes to actual incorrect reporting – are wide-spread across the internet. Leetaru mentions how technology can help by developing applications that cross-check facts and data and then label something as “true” or “false.” Moreover, technology is underutilized as a way to uncover the truth – through search engines, we have access to local news from around the world, and yet we aren’t even looking for it.

Leetaru knows – and I agree – that humans have to do their part, too.

At its core, the rise of “fake news” is first and foremost a sign that we have failed as a society to teach our citizens how to think critically about data and information… and to perform the necessary due diligence and research to verify and validate. ~ Leetaru, for Forbes

We must build our skills and abilities to read news with a lens that considers the source, looks for solid and robust facts, cross-references with different news sources (such as those local to places where stories are rooted), questions vague numbers and references, and refuses to accept at face-value what is written and shared.

While it’s easy to blame hackers or scammers or gossip artists on Facebook, the reality is even top US news media have had some missteps ion this area. The burden is shared by us – the reader, the consumer of information, the citizen. We have an obligation to seek the truth and find clarity on topics, facts, data, subjects, and sources before we make our judgement, form an opinion, and share something as news.

To read Leetaru’s full article, click here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/12/11/how-data-and-information-literacy-could-end-fake-news/#693bf12d3335