Coping in a World of Disinformation

Librarians are trained to question sources, look for experts, check facts, and crosscheck. So a session on finding facts in a world of disinformation seemed a bit like preaching to the choir. However, Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, gave a fascinating look at how the organization monitors political debate discourse and political ads, pointing out the exaggerations and inaccuracies. He also revealed some deceptive advertising consumers have been hit with—products built on deception and misleading health claims. We might assume that consumers are protected by “truth in advertising” but the reality is that our protections are quite limited and we’re bombarded daily with false ads. He says the Federal Trade Commission is small and underfunded and bound by legal due process—it’s simply outmatched

There’s no government agency that has oversight over political ads—and he showed some outrageous and manipulative examples. Falsehoods are also spread by viral email—these can be especially potent and insidious and usually can’t be traced.

The bottom line—unfortunately, disinformation works. People believe what they see and hear. And brain scans reveal physical evidence that people cling to their biases and beliefs.

So, what’s the remedy? The internet, which is a place for spreading misinformation, is also a place to access open and good information, when used properly. He advises these ways to stay “unSpun:”
• Look for expert agreement
• Check primary sources
• Know what counts (with statistics)
• Know who is talking (consider the source)
• Cross check everything that matters

He mentioned some other fact check initiatives by media organizations, including the The Fact Checker from the Washington Post. In fact, one of the most read articles posted in the Information Today NewsBreaks/NewsLinks was on Political Fact-Check Web Sites, which discusses many of these: http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=39759.

Paula J. Hane
News Bureau Chief, ITI
 

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