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UWF Librarians Teach Fact From Fake


A librarian at the University of West Florida is trying to help students find media sources they can trust. In an atmosphere where accusations of fake news are being thrown around by everyone, including the President of the United States, it appears we really trust the news sources we choose for ourselves. "We trust everything we see and read. We trust every tweet. We trust every Facebook post. We believe it with all of our hearts. We trust every GIF, everything that's on Reddit. " said Jane Daugherty, the Information Literacy Instruction Coordinator and the STEM Librarian at the University of West Florida. She has conducted seminars at UWF to help students understand the biases they make have built into their media consumption. "That just means that we only allow things in our bubble, and we really just believe things that agree with us and make us feel good."

At her seminars, Daugherty presents students with several pieces of media and asks them to consider its origins. "Asking them what they know about the author, what they know about the publication, and in reading it, why someone might want to write that."

During these exercises, the media articles that students are asked to look into contain various amount of truth, and fiction being passed off as truth. Daugherty says younger students who have grown up with digital media have an easier time questioning the news than older adults who grew up on print media. "Because our local newspaper told us things that we needed to know and that turned out to be mostly accurate. So why wouldn't [we look at] the same kind of media, something that looks like that [old local newspaper], not even necessarily the web site for your local newspaper, which may or may not exist at this point, and...expect the same kind of veracity?"

And while she admits there is widespread misinformation being spread throughout the media for various purposes, she does not like to use the term “fake news,” and thinks it has become akin to the boy who cried wolf. "[The term 'fake news'] has definitely been a tool that's been used  by a subset of news-makers, and I think that it's lost its teeth at this point. I don't think it's hurting this as much as it could have were it deployed in a more serious context. This could be my cognitive bias, but it doesn't seem to be taken seriously, as seriously as it was initially. It's [now] just something that's dangled out there."

Looking ahead, Daugherty says the road will still be rocky for a while. "It's definitely going to get worse before it gets better! We are poised at a very interesting place, though, because I think, like I said, that it will get worse and then it will get better because it has to. And there's another fallacy out there that back in the 'good old days' the newspapers reported only true things and that's not true. The golden age of reporting and trying to tell the truth [in your reporting] has just been the last 100 to 150 years or so. So we're just cycling back around to madness."

Daugherty has no predictions for the future other than we, as media consumers, will have more and more control over the content, and point of view, of the news that we consume, whether it's true or not.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.