Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association

A chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries.

Detecting Fake News

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Invasion of Fake News Graphic by Free Press Action Fund

Invasion of Fake News by Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund – Licensed under Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 2.0

The American Association of Law Libraries provides a down’n’dirty description of what a law librarian does, not the least of which is “… researching, analyzing, and evaluating the quality, accuracy, and validity of sources.”

In a world where it seems like even people who should know better are screaming #fakenews, it seems fairly intuitive that law librarians would want to seek out fair, unbiased, and professional news sources.

In “The Fate of Online Trust in the Next Decade,” a report released by the Pew Research Center on August 10, 2017, researchers tallied 1,233 responses to a nonscientific survey about future online capabilities and its effects on society and economics. Surveys were sent to a wide variety of expert engineers, scientists, policy experts, academics, technologists, and futurists – and invitees were encouraged to share to survey with fellow experts.

In the end, 48% believed that trust will be strengthened, but 28% believe that it will stay the same, and 24% believe that trust in online interactions and opportunities will be weakened in the next few years. Some respondents expressed hope in online security, like encryption and identity-verification systems.

Pew researchers identified six major themes from the respondents’ answers:

  • Trust will strengthen because systems will improve and people will adapt to them and more broadly embrace them;
  • The nature of trust will become more fluid as technology embeds itself into human and organizational relationships;
  • Trust will not grow, but technology usage will continue to rise, as a “new normal” sets in;
  • Some say blockchain could help; some expect its value might be limited;
  • The less-than-satisfying current situation will not change much in the next decade; and
  • Trust will diminish because the internet is not secure, and powerful forces threaten individuals’ rights.

Half of those themes are resoundingly negative (“trust will not grow;” “less-than-satisfying current situation;” “trust will diminish”). The blockchain theme could go either way.

If the experts are expressing reticence about the future of online opportunities, we need people capable of reviewing resources and disseminating accurate information. Law librarians can certainly be on the front lines.

Cross-posted on LLRX and the beSpacific blog, author Jenny Zook crafted a thoughtful article defining “fake news” and providing valuable fact-checking resources. Zook emphasizes the need to check sources, and offers thoughtful questions to ask yourself when reviewing a questionable online source:

When was it published? Who published it? Is this a primary or secondary source of law? Who is the author and what are his or her qualifications?

Zook cautions that even the best news source can post a story with “…sloppy reporting, misquoting of a source, or wrong attribution of a primary source.”

But all is not lost – Zook urges librarians to develop library research guides and to continue posting information on fake news and authentic resources.

BeSpecific posted Zook’s list of  Library Guides for Detecting Fake News, pulled from July 2017’s AALL Spectrum.

WPLLA members – have you developed a library guide to help thwart fake news? Have you used or forwarded any of the existing guides? If you’ve had to help verify resources or combat fake news in any way, we’d love to hear your story! Send us an email with your experience, or any tips and tricks you’d like to share as we work to combat #fakenews!

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