Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Weaponization of information-Can truth survive?

Long ago and far away a library educator friend published an early info age book that promoted and explained the role of the library as an access point to information useful to the citizen activist.  Her intent was positive, to explain to activists the potential of reliable, authoritative, timely information that would affirm and validate a proposed action.  When her publisher suggested the title “Armed for action” she objected to the militaristic tone….

Now I realize that my friend was prematurely wise to eschew the “armed” image.  In this age information has morphed into the transportable  “weapon of choice”  to foment political action.  Though weaponizing information is usually attributed the Russians it is important to acknowledge that Putin’s tactics are not unique…

To be certain of the implicit evil of weaponized information, I checked with Merriam-Webster to affirm that use of the word “weapon” definitely connotes negative intent: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weapon

In truth, information is simply a resource, the user determines the use… My friend’s benevolent theme may seem naïve now – though just when information deserves no blame for the fact that it’s been weaponized.  Though history is replete with lies, the digital age opens the floodgates to their unfettered flow and proliferation.

And so we are drowning in a flood of commentaries on the weaponization of information; a smattering of opinion pieces are listed below.

Okay, information can be used as a weapon.  And yet the essential power lies in the receiver of information who is challenged to think and act according to the content and source of the information.  The “armor” we need today rests with the individual or institution that will take or resist  action based on the weaponized information.

As a society, we are called upon to grapple with the challenge to make “critical thinking skills” the norm—or in today’s parlance, how do we “normalize” critical thinking…  I prefer, and frequently quote,  my good friend Ruth Myers who would often ask, How do we inoculate learners with a healthy dose of “perceptive paranoia?”

The Founders, influenced by Jefferson,  envisioned a democracy founded on citizen access to and wise assessment of information.  Knowing this, we should focus not so much on the weaponry as on how we harness the power of good information (aka truth) to support this democracy.  In a word, how do we sustain a political system based on truth, and arm “we the people” with the power to recognize bald-faced lies when they are aimed at us with malicious intent.

RELATED READ: Social Media Helped Trump Win By ‘Dumbing Down the World,’ Twitter Founder Says  https://www.printfriendly.com/print?url_s=uGGCF_~_PdN_~_PcS_~_PcSJJJmpBzzBAqErnzFmBEt_~_PcSArJF_~_PcS

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Tomorrow’s journalists – challenges, rights, and great promise

The First Amendment is not so construed as to award merit badges for intrepid but mistaken or careless reporting. Misinformation has not merit in itself; standing alone it is antithetical to the purposes of the First Amendment as the calculated lie… The sole basis for protecting publishers who spread false information is that otherwise the truth would too often be suppressed. Supreme Court Justice Byron White

As often happens thinking and learning about a topic leads me to deep thoughts on where we go from here, how we are the creators of our own future.  Thus, reflecting on a recent post about Constitution Day (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/we-the-people-celebrate-constitution-day-by-learning/) led me to reflect on our role as individuals on whom the Founding Fathers depended to meet their high expectations – specifically, 21st Century economic, technological and political  challenges that re-order the historic relationship between government, the press – and “we the people.”

As is their way, my thoughts turned to what comes next – Who and what forces will work to preserve the inalienable right to know?  What are characteristics, the status, the working environment of the nation’s journalists?   And thus I found myself wondering what are the influences on aspiring journalists, what is their training, and what will lure a fledging seeker of truth to risk a life as a professional journalist?

Clearly, these concerns were shared by those far wiser:

Moreover, the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Committee has produced a resource guide specifically related to Constitution Day 2017. http://jeasprc.org/2017-constitution-day-lessons/.  In fact. the Scholastic Press Rights Committee is an information mecca of essentials.  The Committee has published a video intro and links to new materials, lessons learned and timely resources on the rights of student journalists.

Other timely resources include these:

  • An article by Matthew Smith on the “importance of independent active press” focuses on the Constitutional rights aspect of student journalism focuses on the local scene: http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/05/06/your-right-to-know-state-should-protect-student-journalists/
  • The Journalism Education Association report entitled “Promoting Scholastic Press Rights Legislation: A blueprint for success” is exactly what the title suggests, a comprehensive blueprint for action. This is thorough and timely review of the rights of student journalists, steps to be taken in a student press rights action plans, related organizations that support student journalists’ rights, sample laws and recommended language. One essential feature of this resource is an excellent listing of related organizations, historical information about past legislation, and the names of experts who can offer opinions about legislative language.
  • The JEA also hosts a robust website, http://jeasprc.org that features a unique “Tools of Truth Landing Page” that covers current topics related to student journalists’ rights  http://jeasprc.org/tools-of-truth-landing-page/
  • The Student Press Law Center, established in the post-Watergate era, now headquartered in Virginia, focuses on the legal rights of high school and college journalists: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Student+Press+Law+Center&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
  • The National Scholastic Press Association (http://studentpress.org/nspa/), located near the campus of the University of Minnesota, “promotes the standards and ethics of good journalism as accepted and practiced by print, broadcast and electronic media in the United States,”

Constitution Day 2017 inspires us to take a long view of a free press.  To do so demands that we get a better sense of what’s happening in student journalism.  Some indicators are close at hand:

In high schools and colleges throughout the nation young journalists are tackling major issues of social justice, civil rights, press freedom and the right to know.  Their rights demand attention and deserve recognition.

“I became a journalist is to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”Henry Luce

IMPORTANT UPDATE: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/aug/28/Student-Journalist-FOIA-Grant/

Speaking truth to power: Artists’ reflections on libraries’ voice

Libraries are places – they may be a shelf in a classroom or a grand memorial to a grateful grad, the hub of a medical center or an adjunct to the public square.    It is those who envision the possibilities and shape the role of a library that make a difference.

As keepers of the record librarians have long embraced the challenge to expand access to facts and ideas. In modern times libraries in this democracy, have been quick to resist suppression of information and ideas – as well as other offenses to democratic principles  that tend to rile – and inspire – librarians.

No wonder that, in this era of alternative facts and determined truth seekers, I’m thinking of the heritage of libraries.   Recognition of University of Minnesota Libraries Day earlier this month prompted me to learn more about the ways in which today’s libraries and librarians are coping. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4004&action=edit)

My thoughts prompted me to remember a cluster of library-related blog posts that my friend Jack Becker of Forecast Public Art had sent me some weeks ago.  These are all stories that celebrate the library as a place with a voice – a voice that must speak truth to power. This  armchair tour features amazing  libraries that dare to capitalize on the power they have to inform and lead.

Though these magnificent examples of resistance may be a bit beyond the local library’s resources, it is nonetheless a fact that libraries across the country are speaking in a “socially acceptable” voice to support the right to know and the right to speak. For examples, just Google “libraries resistance 2017.”

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that  of an ignorant nation.  Walter Cronkite

Protecting what’s OURS on Net Neutrality Day of Action

RED ALERT DAY – https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/9/17333188/net-neutrality-red-alert-day-of-action-reddit-tumblr-pornhub-cra-vote

The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet.  It requires a certain relish for confusion. Molly Ivins

If ever there were a call to relish confusion it is now –  the options for “relishment” are myriad.   And if ever there were an organized effort to “weaponize” confusion, it is the  war to end net neutrality now raging on the nation’s regulatory frontlines.

“Confuse and conquer” is an ancient strategy rendered ever more lethal by the fact that the digital age effectively limits time for the body politic to think, much less thoughtfully discuss.  Issues, especially issues involving complex technology, speed their way through a political process well-lubricated with corporate contributions and compliant appointees.

As many but not enough affected Americans know, Wednesday, July 12, is Net Neutrality Day of Action.  (https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12   For many of us whose dependence on the Net is assumed without question the ethos of the tool is vague and the implications are vaguer still.  Here’s one digestible overview of the issues and implications:

And yet there’s always time to crib for a deep dive into the digital age version of Cliff Notes – some basics:

The corporate campaign to confuse the public opponents of net neutrality has clogged the web with more than the citizen owner of the communication tool needs to know. Still, this is a KISS “keep it simple, stupid” moment.

Herb Schiller is the wise man whose words have long  shaped my understanding of the principle, if not the technology, of net neutrality.  More about Schiller’s prescient caution in this 2013 post: https:/marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/herbert-i-schiller/

The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people ~ Tom Clancy

 

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/us-house-panel-wants-google-facebook-atandt-ceos-to-testify-on-internet-rules/ar-AAoP6zY?ocid=UE01DHP

BACKGROUNDER- MINNPOST: https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2017/07/everyone-claims-be-open-internet-so-what-s-latest-net-neutrality-fight-reall?utm_source=MinnPost+e-mail+newsletters&utm_campaign=956e5e91b0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_21&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3631302e9c-956e5e91b0-123365126

ADDENDA

Digital Access to Obama Administration Archives — A priority in progress

Writing about the current President’s tweets prompted me to focus with greater interest on just what’s happening with the archives of the Obama administration.

It did not take long to appreciate that reality exceeds expectations.  With the cooperation of the Obama Administration archivists are committed to assure access to massive amounts of information by and about President Obama’s eight years in the White House.  To give some idea of the massive research possibilities: The Obama administration is providing the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) with more than 250 terabytes of electronic records, including roughly 300 million emails.

NARA will start digitizing the unclassified records using a “new model” for the storage of presidential records. The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has made a commitment to fund the digitization of all unclassified records of the Obama presidency.

In a May 3rd article in FCW, Chase Gunter describes how NARA is shifting to digital preservation strategies; Gunter writes that “henceforth the unclassified records of the Obama Administration will be archived using a new model for the storage of presidential records.  Instead of building a new site for the records they will be housed in existing NARA facilities and the agency will work on preserving and making them accessible in digital format to the greatest extent possible.” (https://fcw.com/Articles/2017/05/03/obma-records-digital-asps?p=)

Some basics re the Obama Administration archives:

Subversive thoughts on National Library Week 2017

Librarians are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.” Michael Moore 

As usual, Michael Moore sees beyond, behind, through and inside the exterior of things, events, buildings – and people.  Which is why this quote got me thinking about this National Library Week post.

National Library Week matters because if only because the theme gives us pause to think about how or whether “libraries transform lives,” as this year’s NLW theme asserts. (http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/factsheets/nationallibraryweek)

For most of us the word “library” prompts visual images of stately buildings of days gone by, rows of neatly shelved tomes, acres of accessible technology, children’s reading corners and quiet carrels.  For some nostalgic bibliophiles, there’s even an old book smell….

And yet, libraries are not just places.  What the library user sees is the physical manifestation of an intricate collaboration of library workers who breathe life into what is a truly human process.   It is human beings who select the library’s holdings, organize the collection, know how to locate resources through a maze of interlibrary connections, maneuver their way through print and digital reference tools, read to children, deliver resources to the homebound, partner with researchers, and otherwise link a unique bit of recorded information – a book, database, video, story or archive — with a seeker who has a need and right to know.

My thought is that NLW should be re-branded, maybe as National “Libraryness Week.”  Though obviously that’s not going to happen, rebranding would shine the light on the essence of the whole, the countless roles that committed library workers play – when they’re plotting not a revolution but a path from seeker to source, unlikely source to ready seeker.

The sometimes rugged path is laid by a team of library workers who shape the reality that comes full circle in the physical library setting – whether that’s an iconic Carnegie public library, a laboratory, law firm, elementary school, university campus, hospital or church basement.  Physical settings are essential but inert – human beings plot, then create, the settings, the flow of information and ideas, and the path that leads to learning.

Michael Moore nails it – those library workers aren’t just sitting there, or shelving or cataloging or reading to a group of six-year-olds or delving into a rare tome or deciphering a reference question.  Toiling in back rooms and endless meetings, they are, in fact, plotting a revolution, a revolution built on an informed democracy in which people seek truth, embrace wisdom, learn from the past, and share the intellectual legacy of a free people.

One of my favorite high school memories is of a beloved teacher with a mission who would dash down the hall declaring with gusto that she was “on her way to combat ignorance!”  That’s how I think of library workers who 1) design and share an integrated system that assures that every voter, student, inventor, parent, historian, new American, researcher, educator, caregiver or avid mystery reader has the opportunity to exercise the inalienable right to know, and 2) go to the max to see that truth-seekers have the skills, attitudes and awareness to make the information and ideas their own.

Though I wish I had a more poetic word for it I’m stuck for now with the idea of “libraryness” to express my commitment to this democratic – and increasingly essential — role of librarians and libraries – the port in the storm engulfing this nation’s truth-seekers.  The whole of libraryness is far greater than the sum of its parts; the strength of libraryness rests not only on ready access to recorded resources but on the creative vision and commitment of library workers.

Yes, we celebrate library buildings, library books, digital resources, archives, photos, magazines, devices, games, information collected, produced and consumed in ever-changing formats.  For me, this library quote “puts a face” on the wholeness and outcome of libraryness – an outcome impossible to measure, essential to preserve:

Librarians are just like search engines, except they smile and they talk to me and they don’t give me paid-for advertising when they are trying to help.  And they have actual hearts.

* * *

P.S. When/if you’re at Minneapolis Central Library visit the NLW exhibits that  include some lesser known treasures  that tell the story of libraries and librarian.  While you’re at the Central Library visit special collections to check out the excellent exhibit of digital resources that give reveal the treasures of the Library’s special collections: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/opening-library-archives-from-the-outside-in

Honor library workers of yore who paved an early path on which today’s information highways are constructed by clicking on this NPR broadcast: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/13/522606808/file-this-under-nostalgia-new-book-pays-tribute-to-the-library-card-catalog?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170413

 

Jefferson’s Birthday honors a legacy that endures and inspires

Jefferson worried that the people – and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle – are easily misled. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over. 

The words of Carl Sagan are both a mighty tribute and a warning – certainly words to consider this week as we celebrate the life lived and the principles espoused by the nation’s third president.  Though more honored in the breach than the observance,

April 13 marks the legal observance of the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on April 13, 1743.  The observance was declared by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15611)  affirmed by President George W. Bush in 2007. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25554)  Both of these proclamations underscore in detail the life, vision and lasting legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

Biographies of Jefferson are many and massive.  They record the countless ways in which Jefferson played a decisive role in shaping the lasting contours of this nation.  In his many elected and appointed positions – as Governor, Ambassador, Secretary of State, Vice President and President he was a mighty force.  His contributions are many and lasting, as are his vision and his words.

Jefferson’s legacy is both institutional and inspirational.  Jeffersonian quotes are threads woven throughout the fabric of the nation’s laws, beliefs and spirit.  They reflect his deep faith in and commitment to liberty, an informed electorate, freedom of expression and of religion, and the power of informed people to govern their own destiny.

This week, as the nation struggles to cope with the challenges of the day, the words of Thomas Jefferson inspire hope and offer guidance.  Taking time to think about and to share the words of Jefferson honor the man and focus energy on basic principles of a vibrant and viable democracy.  Of the zillions of quotable quotes, these seem especially appropriate to the times:

  • The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. 
  • Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. 
  • I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion. 
  • No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will. 
  • Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. 
  • In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. 
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.  
  • Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.
    The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. 
  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson 
  • I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. 
  • That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.