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Shelf Life: The Real Issues with Fake News

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Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 4:58 PM
Walchak

La Plata County is fortunate to have three public libraries that serve the residents of the county. These libraries serve as equal-access institutions of learning and as neutral, welcoming spaces where all ideas can be pursued.

Although each library has noteworthy strengths, they all identify trends or issues that are of importance to the community and respond to them. One such hot topic is “fake news.”

It appears that people have just woken up to the reality that some of the information they are receiving may not be truthful. However, this is not a new reality but has been an issue for as long as news has existed. Because our country has a historic commitment to a free press, there is a great deal of creative license among publications. This reality has been seen as an important aspect of keeping the press free. Libraries are accustomed to dealing with disinformation and it is one of their strengths to educate and assist people in getting to the truth with vetted and reliable sources.

What seems to be different now is that some people are unable to decipher legitimate from fake news and therefore vociferously advocate to stop the free flow of information – real or not. This rhetoric is dangerous because it paves the way for censorship. Is it not better to have a plethora of “fake” news than to have the government telling us what kind of information we can produce?

Most people know when they pick up tabloids that there is an element of truth to the news but it’s mostly just sensationalism, if not fake news. With the onslaught of the internet and social media, it is more difficult to discern truth from fiction. High schools and colleges have offered classes on information literacy, especially in regard to the internet, but the public is not trained or motivated to research what is factual and what is not. Take, for example, these bogus websites:

thedogisland.com. Here you can send your dog off to a better life where they are “separated from the anxieties of urban life ... free from the stress associated with daily life among humans.” Or, check out zapatopi.net/treeoctopus, where you can learn about a mollusk that can climb trees! These websites are obviously false, but others are remarkably deceptive. It used to be easier to determine what was opinion and what was news within a publication, whereas now every author seems to have an agenda and an opinion to offer.

So, what’s a person to do? Here are a few actions to take, as outlined in the Huffington Post, but also know that the library is here to assist you.

Be skeptical of what you read; especially beware of headlines. Consider the source. Note the timelines. Check out the evidence and the references. Compare the story with other reports. Think critically. And remember, libraries are your partners in uncovering the truth.Shelley Walchak is director of Pine River Library.

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