Fake News is a term that we are increasingly hearing about across the Web, especially by the ‘Leader of the Free World’, often in relation to unfavourable news coverage for him. It’s not the most savoury of terms and does not really capture the wider issues relating to it which range from poor information literacy to biased reporting of science across the media.
Last month the London South Bank University, Library and Learning Resources grabbed the initiative and hosted their inaugural Fake News conference aimed at librarians and information professionals: This Is Not A Fake Conference! You can view the speakers’ slides and tweets with the Twitter hashtag: #LSBUFakeNews2018
I was invited to speak at the conference and discussed the connection between academics and how they work with the media and the problems of misreporting, bias and cherry picked results. I talked about Altmetrics as a way to follow the media coverage and to gain credit for an academic’s potential impact and how far their scholarly communications can travel across the web. It also helps to make research Open Access so that those reading the media coverage can read the actual published research for themselves. My presentation slides are now online: New research needs to be better reported and librarians can help with that.
My talk was based on this earlier blog post Working with the media can be beneficial but linking to and citing your research should be compulsory. I have also written on the topic for The Conversation with a piece entitled New research must be better reported, the future of society depends on it.
I was not sure whether the event would be just a collection of repetitive library resource talks on ‘how we teach students to assess news and information’. Naturally there were talks on the topic, but the range and richness of the presentations were really interesting. We heard how Fake News works and how it is getting worse by Adam Blackwell (Proquest), and gained fascinating insights from Rita Marcella and Graeme Baxter (Robert Gordon University) that Fake News does not have a long term negative effect on those propagating it.
There were several talks from the Universities of Nottingham, Roehampton and Cambridge, amongst others, about the various ways they were working with students and staff to teach information literacy skills. Everyone had different ideas and ways of supporting people, all of which were very valid and full of great potential. I was particularly impressed by Peter Keep and Robin Pomeroy talking about their inspiring Charlotte Project (named after journalist Charlotte Cooper) which works with journalism students aged 15-18 to enable them to navigate the maze of news, blogs and commentary with a critical eye.
As a former journalist, I found the conference really engaging and suggested that alongside the one Reuters journalist in attendance (from The Charlotte Project) that they should look to invite more members of the media for the next conference. I am fairly certain that this will happen as the conference was really well attended with a packed lecture theatre and a full day of interesting talks. Obviously the issue of Fake News (or information illiteracy/corruption for want of better names) is not going to go away. The power of social media and Web 2.0 means we can all publish content and of course some people with negative agendas are doing so, often with impunity. Library and information professionals are especially qualified to work in this area and help students, professionals and members of the public better critically appraise information for its authenticity and credibility. Conferences like this are a great place to start that call to action within the sector that can only help benefit the rest of society.
The conference has resulted in a Jiscmail list being established for library and information professionals to share content and resources on Fake News for librarians. You can join the mailing list here: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=LIS-FAKENEWS
This month I published another article in The Conversation which may be of interest to readers on the topic: In the era of Brexit and fake news, scientists need to embrace social media.