Tag Archives: information literacy

To disempower disinformation focus on the “missing link”

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored – American Library Association

Mark Zuckerberg is between a rock and a hard place, or at least a cushy version thereof. Though FB is not the source, it is the ubiquitous channel through which floods of disinformation flow. Now his empire is at the epicenter of post-election blame. Entrepreneur that he is, Zuckerberg proposes the classic quick fix, i.e. to label fake facts and bar the malevolent sources of the bald-faced lies that disinform public thought and discourse.   (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/19/mark-zuckerberg-outlines-how-facebook-plans-to-tackle-fake-news.html)

It’s the predictable feel-good, shift the blame, and invariably ineffective fix – a move that denies “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” (American Library Association) — digital age throwing out the baby with the bath.

Placing the power and responsibility in the medium disrespects the individual’s inalienable right “to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” Furthermore, it won’t work.

The information chaos of the day demands a return to First Principles, in this case the core values of our political system. A fundamental tenet of this nation is respect for the responsibility of citizens to know how to self-govern.   The founders recognized that, in order to rule, citizens would need to depend on the free flow of information and ideas – thus, they stipulated the inalienable right to know coupled with the right to share thoughts and ideas. In the 18th Century that meant freedom of the press and free speech.

Ay, there’s the rub.

That was pre-social media, a time when information seekers were links in a more-or-less tangible – and linear – information chain that linked communicator and receiver. Though publishers and editors could filter the flow, their positions and proclivities were overt. Receivers of the information and ideas knew and considered the source, then exercised their right to adopt or discard the content and to talk back to the source. Though the system was far from inclusive, the basics were straightforward.

The information age expands access, gives voice to the masses, restructures the nature and power over the tools, removes the filters, and ultimately places unprecedented responsibility on the end user – who is also a sender – of the message. What is happening now is that the source holds the balance of power – receivers are uncritical accepters, frequent spreaders, of disinformation who have mastered the malevolent art of disinformation power.

As information receivers aid and abet the flow the power of information is magnified beyond calculation – the power to determine the content and manage the flow of information is nearly

Predictably, when the coin of the political realm is information – control of information corrupts and absolute control of information corrupts absolutely.

And yet, in the ongoing flap about fake news, focus remains on the sender end of the once linear information chain.   Though quick to fault the press for failure to fact check or other abuse of power, we instinctively avert attention, and thus fail to consider the power that rests with the receiver of disinformation.

Labeling fake facts — or blaming the press — fails to dig deep enough to get at the root of the pervasive and pernicious power of disinformation. The complexities of the digital age demand a radical [“of or growing from the root of a plant”] look at the linear information chain that no longer exists. What we have today is a distributed information mesh with sources welded into the links, a brilliantly designed system that, unchecked, wraps the receiver in a dark web of disinformation.

Info Power to the rest of us

Radical thinking demands a hard look at the “missing link” – the receiver of information. It is the receiver who is responsible for evaluating the message, for turning information into action. The first step is to understand and act on the fact that fabrications are powerless if critical receivers resist, dismiss or eschew the sources or content of fake facts.

Recent history suggests that we are ill equipped to ward off disinformation. Back in pre-FB days Franklin Roosevelt declared, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely” adding that “the real safeguard of democracy, is education.” The digital age challenges us to rethink the safeguards within our reach – to expand K-12 and lifelong learning options to encompass critical thinking skills that adapt with the times, to nurture a healthy dose of perceptive paranoia, to understand the power of information and the disastrous potential of disinformation.

No matter how well crafted or effectively spread disinformation is, lies are lies. Lies hide in the weeds, impotent until and unless they exercise their power to influence the thoughts or actions of the receiver. It will take creative thinking, coupled with bold action, to get ahead of disinformation.

As a democratic society under stress we need to focus unprecedented attention and energy on the receiver link of the information chain – how people know what they know, believe what they believe. Labeling or otherwise limiting propaganda at the head end is ineffective and short-term.

The best offense is a strong defense. The best defense against disinformation is a nation of voters with the skill and the will to defend ourselves against the irresistible lure of brilliantly packaged disinformation. As a democratic society we need to understand the intent of the forefathers, then decide if we are up to the radical action it will take to face the challenges of the Information Age.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Thomas Jefferson

Facing the facts about facts

I’m telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true. Lady Gaga

There are longer, but no more compelling, characterizations of the scourge of disinformation – so serious that the sitting President of the United States brought up the subject just this week – notably at a joint press conference with German President Angela Merkel.  In that meeting President Obama spoke of the perils of  “active disinformation, very well presented.”

The heart of the matter, the President said, is that, “if we are not serious about the facts, about what is true and what is not, and especially at the time of social networks, when so many people receive the information in one sentence on their phone, if we cannot tell the difference between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have a problem.”

The power, influence and tenacity of disinformation is evident – everyone has a story of having been duped, even having shared or acted on a kernel of disinformation planted with malice aforethought to skew public perception and action. We are conditioned to believe what we read or see, particularly if the information is well presented by “credentialed” spokesperson and/or, better yet, backed up by inscrutable, and thus infallible, metrics.

Disinformation is no respecter of receiver: Did any of us believe, if just for a minute, that Pope Francis favored a presidential candidate in the recent election? Or that that climate change might be just an overblown theory? or that the CIA was somehow behind the Malayzia Airline crash? Or that Ford Motors was planning a major move to Mexico?

Back in the pre-social media day the term “information literacy” was fashioned to put a name on an emerging Information Age challenge. Last month we even offered a hasty nod to Information Literacy Month. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

The fact is that efforts to build information literacy skills lag far behind the ubiquity, fluidity and instant gratification of social media.   Far more insidious is the harsh reality that the wizards of disinformation have mastered the tools to manufacture palatable lies, to present the fake information in irresistible nibbles, to package propaganda a fact — then “repeat the lie over and over until it becomes true.”

For me the spark of hope that springs eternal ignites when Gaga and Obama sound the same alarm – that the power of disinformation is real, pervasive and a threat to this democracy.

The forefathers established a nation built on the premise of an engaged citizenry.   Informed voters (as narrowly defined by the white men who wrote the rules,) would have access to information by and about their government and the skills to consider both the source and the content of information. Relevant, valid information would be communicated to the citizenry not in 140 character blips but in pamphlets, newspapers, orations, even books! http://www.constitutionfacts.com/founders-library/founders-reading-list/

Disinformation is hardly a new idea. In 1710 Jonathan Swift penned The Art of Political Lying” in which he expressed his dim view of fake information:

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.

Feeling good about feeling informed – in 140 characters

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance~~Plato

Since “information literary awareness” is on my mind this month, I resonated when I spotted this from the latest Journalist’s Resource: “Facebook and feeling informed: A proxy for news?” I loved the reference to the self-delusion of “feeling informed.”

The article cites a specific study and findings: “Appetizer or Main Dish? Explaining the use of Facebook news posts as a substitute for other news sources” published in Computers in Human Behavior, 2016.   There’s an abstract of the study online and a summary of findings in this Journalist’s Resource article: (http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/social-media/facebook-social-media-news-informed)

What stunned me most was to learn that 63% of Facebook users see it as a news source – a number that inflates to 74% among 18-34 year olds. In fact, when it comes to the meat of the story, Facebook sells only the sizzle, not the steak….

In a fleeting act of desperation I decided to go with the flow, to surrender to the times, to capitulate. So, to reduce the complexities of information literacy, search strategies and other pedagogical anachronisms, I propose that student researchers streamline the formalities of information literacy down to these elegantly tweetable basics:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Who said so?
  • When?
  • Whadda they know?
  • What’s their angle?
  • What difference does it make?
  • What’s my take on the story?
  • Can I say it in140 characters?

With apologies to the poet, doesn’t that cover “all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know?” I know I feel informed……

 

“Information Literacy”- Universal challenge of the digital era

Information’s everywhere so now we have to think

 As we reel in the barrage of misinformation, punctuated with provocative spurts of ignorance, it seems ironic – if timely — to note that October 2016 is National Information Literacy Awareness Month.  On the positive side, we should be keenly aware by now that this democracy, based as it is on an informed citizenry, faces an unprecedented challenge.

In truth the term “information literacy” makes me cringe, though I can offer no alternative. More to the point, my serious concern is to focus on the concept – that we keep the goal in mind as we struggle to sort through the maze of messages with which we are bombarded. So I use the term “infolit” and think about how we cope – individually and as a society — with the maelstrom.

Since the dawn of the digital era teachers and librarians have led the push to prepare youth to meet the challenge of the information age. The United States National Forum on Information Literacy offers a serviceable definition of infolit — to wit: “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” The story of infolit is well-chronicled in a pair of lengthy Wikipedia pieces that provides references, definition, and basic background.

Still, today’s information-saturated environment presents a challenge for every lifelong learner – i.e. everyone. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent sea of information overload, misinformation, and truncated innuendoes. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of age, economic, social or education status, to hone the skills of discernment, to stifle the spontaneous reaction, to share information responsibly and thoughtfully – in a word, to think.

Though the month of October offers far too little time to overcome our digital gaps, we can begin by focusing on the reality that we are at a critical moment in the history of this nation and the world. As never before we engage as producers, intermediaries, receivers, and processors of information; it is incumbent upon us to consider the dimensions of our responsibility, to realize that all information is not created equal and that funding source, authority, intent, verification, and a host of other factors shape the content of the messages that bombard us. As citizens of the information age we must also recognize and respect our role as sources and sharers of information and ideas.

The challenge of the Information Age is to internalize the fact that information matters – and to act accordingly. Exchanges of ignorance are inane at best, potentially dangerous. To honor the intrinsic value of good information is not instinctive; it must be taught, learned and applied – until it becomes habitual.

At one point I thought to create an ad hoc list of materials to help young people sharpen their infolit skills. During that initiative it came to me that these exercises would be appropriate for any one of us. Masters though we may be of digital manipulation we might well take time to think critically about what’s known in some circles as “critical thinking”.

So this launch into Info Lit Awareness Month begins with titles for adults who may hope to hone their own thinking skills before sharing them with 21st Century learners. There nothing conclusive about this, the point being to encourage readers to think about thinking.

One starting point might be a dip into the website of The Critical Thinking Community for their thoughts on the subject: http://www.criticalthinking.org//

Though this library-centric reference may compound the info overload it offers a comprehensive overview of information seekers and their interface with resources and it sets the stage for thinking about the broad scope of the challenge:

http://www.wip.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2015/oclcresearch-library-in-life-of-user.pdf#page=190

Following is a pot pourri of approaches to logical thinking, coping with fallacies, intelligent embrace of the Net and the scourge of intentional misinformation – needless to say this is the proverbial tip of the infolit iceberg:

  • Almossawi, Ali and Alejandro Giraldo. An illustrated book of bad arguments.
  • Bennett, B. Logically Fallacious: The ultimate collection of over 300 logical fallacies.
  • Cryan, Cran and Sharron Shatil, authors, with Bill Mayblin, illustrator.Introducing Logic: A graphic guide.
  • Mintz, Ann P, editor. Web of Deceit: Misinformation and manipulation in the age of social media. Numerous contributors.

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge;  It is thinking that makes what we read ours. John Locke

Seniors Quicken the Pace of “Digital Inclusion”

“We will not be silenced!” asserts my friend with clinched fist and a tone that echoes past protests familiar to many who have achieved senior citizen status.  Today she is denouncing the myth that seniors don’t – and theoretically can’t–  learn to use technology.    The pernicious myth, long debunked by reality, subtly relegates those of an age to the virtual shelf – as if they themselves were virtual.

My friend’s adamant rant continues – “We marched for peace, demanded equal pay, fought for civil and voting rights, created the tools that shaped the information age” (There’s more that’s better left unquoted here.)  ) Her vehemence recalls the immortal words of Twisted Sister, idol of a pre-digital age “We ain’t gonna take it anymore!”

Researcher Rod P. Githens of the University of Illinois Urbana introduces his study of “Older Adults and E-Learning” with two poignant caveats 1) We often attribute rigidity to age rather than personality, though Nichols (2001) points out rigidity ‘is less a factor of age than of personal history, pressure, and predisposition,” and 2) “attributing rigidity to age is just as damaging as attributing negative stereotypes to other groups.”

In the information age it’s all about statistics.  Another caveat:  Though statistics may not lie, they definitely lag.  There are numerous studies and a wide range of statistics on seniors’ use of technology.  Some samples:

  • A 2010 study by the AARP includes some basics facts, e.g.Two out of five (40%) age 50 and over consider themselves extremely (17%) or very (23%) comfortable using the Internet.
  • 37% of those surveyed use social media with Facebook being by far the most popular (23%)
  • Of the seniors who are connected 62% are connected with their children, 36% with their grandchildren, and 73% with other relatives

Aging Online,  a blog managed by Jamie Cannacher,  offers some fun stats re seniors and technology in an article irresistibly titled “Four cool boomer technology stats you don’t know.”

  • People age 55 and up pick passwords that are twice as secure as teenagers, according to research data pulled from 70 million Yahoo! Users.
  • Smartphone usage among Boomers (age 45 to 54) grew 16 percent last year – falling just behind young people (age 18-24) whose usage of smartphones grew 18 percent.
  • Social media usage by people age 65 and older grew 50 percent during the last two years, according to a report rom Experian.
  • 13 percent of people age 50 and older are Twitter users

 

Within the past hour I received a hot off the wireless a post from Aging Online, a quick piece with another irresistible title “Last week was big for new data on how seniors use the web.”

Briefly, Forrester Research, a privately operated research company,  just released updated statistics including these facts about the mores of seniors who are online. Though the full report is designed for Forrester clients and other paid customers, a few extrapolated stats suggest an upward trend worthy of note:

  • 91% of online seniors use email,
  • 71% go online daily
  • 59% have purchased products online in the past three months,
  • 46%  share photos by email,
  • 44% play solo games online, and
  • 24% sign up for coupons and freebies online

Though Aging Online is just one of several up-to-the-minute windows on the latest scoop on techno-savvy or digitally deprived seniors, it is a starting point to the vast possibilities.

Some thoughts on seniors and technology:

  • Americans are reaching the magic age of “senior” (however that may be defined) at a staggering rate.
  • The definition of senior all depends – It can be anything from 50+ to the age of retirement or another category that suggests “older elderly.” As always, statistical analysis varies with definition of the population surveyed.
  • A historic fact that intrigues me is that many senior retirees, e.g. military retirees, clerical workers, accountants, who have received training and used technology for decades may associate computers with workplace drudgery rather than the freedom of everyday living as a retiree.  They may leave the computer at the office because of cost, ready access or because they have had too much of a good thing.
  • Children and grandchildren are generally touted as the best tutors of older family members.  Though I have discovered no statistical confirmation, I would posit that they are not only proximate and patient, but that they are “on call” when Grandpa hits a digital roadblock.
  • Those with an interest in bridging the generation gap should check out Cyber-Seniors, producer of documentary films tell the stories of seniors and teens working in tandem.  The premise of Cyber-Seniors is this:  “A history book can only teach you so much.  Today’s kids and seniors have an opportunity to share so much more with each other by trading off history lessons for computer lessons.  The way technology is changing at a rapid pace today, with our devices becoming more intuitive and easier to use, this could be the last time we need a generation gap that’s so obvious.  We’re growing up with it and keeping pace.  Future studies about technology might not focus so much on age, but instead on access and economic status.”
  • More important, future studies about technology should focus on content, not to how to manipulate the tools but how to shape the issues, evaluate the sources, relate research to practice, make wise and informed decisions.  Access is an essential “baby step” on the long path to information literacy for all ages.

My friend is right to demand recognition of seniors’ technology acumen and receptivity to change.  She and her superannuated colleagues deftly couple decades of life experience with the need, will and tools to speak and be heard.  The rapidly expanding ranks of thoughtful people “of an age” will not – and should not – be silent in this information age.

Minneapolis Opens Discusion with Survey of the City’s Digital Inclusion Status

For the better part of an hour the 25-30 concerned Minneapolitans gathered at Northeast Library to learn the results of a recent survey of the City’s digital inclusion status.  This was the first of three public meetings to share and discuss the survey process and implications.  Otto Doll from the City IT department kicked off the discussion with an informative power point report on the recently released Community Technology Survey, a profile of Minneapolis residents’ access to the tools and skills of  “digital inclusion” for individuals and families, “digital justice” for the community

Doll explained the intent and principles of the study including a diagram showing stages of development from physical access to equipment, to technology literacy, to a public embrace of a digitally-inclusive community.  The presentation offered helpful graphics which included maps of the areas of the city depicted in terms of basic access to the Internet and practical uses of web technology as well as bar charts that illustrate the state of digital inclusion by gender, race and ethnicity, education and income.

The digital inclusion survey, conducted under contract with the City by the National Research Center, Inc. was mailed to 80,000 Minneapolis residents clustered into eleven communities.  The 30% response rate reflects 2,578 completed surveys with a margin of error at a plus or minus nine percent. Results were weighted to reflect the 2012 Census profile within each of the communities and with the City at large. Residents whose first language is Spanish, Somali or Hmong were able to request a survey in their preferred language.

Bottom line: The survey portrays a city in which digital inclusion matches with existing socio-economic realities.   While 82% of the City’s households have computer with internet access, only 57% of Phillips and 65% of Near North residents have access at home;  25% of African Americans reported they do not have Internet access in the home.

Across the board, most residents report that they are not aware of the City’s wifi network, a hot topic a decade ago when the City signed a major contract with U.S. Internet to build the wifi system.

When the presenter opened the floor for questions, hands waved, voices raised, and suggestions overtook questions as one speaker after another offered a range of ideas for creating a digitally inclusive city.  Though Doll tried with minimal success to explain that the survey was a measure of what is, not an action plan for what could and should be, the ideas flowed from attendees, the majority of whom brought to the table extensive life experience working to stem the digital divide .   Several indicated involved with the Technology Literacy Collaborative, a network of digital inclusion supporters.

A prevailing theme throughout the presentation and the discussion was the need for collaboration among agencies and organizations to assure that the Internet does not offer have not’s just one more resource to not have.

The statistics, graphics and conclusions of the survey are available online for interested individuals and organizations.  Print resources will also be shared at future public meetings which are scheduled as follows:

The City has provided the massive survey results, including the full data set, on the Minneapolis City website.  Questions or requests for additional information can be addressed to  Elise  Ebhardt at elise.ebhardt@minneapolismn.gov or 612 673 2026.

Consumers Shape the Chain – Whether it’s food or information

An op-ed piece in the February 2 Star Tribune caught my eye and kindled thoughts of an initiative with which I was much involved a couple of decades ago.  Clay Johnson, writing in the LA Times examines the unhealthy information diet that threatens the American public.  He compares junk news “largely provided by conglomerates focused on the bottom line” with junk food which most folks realize is neither nutritious nor slenderizing. (One wonders if the LA Times is numbered among those conglomerates.)

Johnson’s point, well stated, is the principle that librarians have stressed for decades, peaking  in the 1980’s with the launch of an energetic campaign to highlight “information literacy” as essential to the core curriculum from cradle through college.  For the outset branding of that worthy campaign was unfortunate – stuffy, pedantic, boring.  Though Clay Johnson’s food analogy is more catchy. the idea behind the information literacy brand is sound:  Just as the way to avoid obesity is to be a smart consumer of food, the way to avoid ignorance is to be a smart consumer of information.

Whether it’s food or information, the key player is the consumer.

Arguing that the media should “chase us” Johnson urges information consumers to “consume deliberately, consume locally, consume close to the original source, consume less and produce more.”  He also warns that given 21st technology, every click counts as it whets the appetite and informs the next move of the junk producer.

Today’s advocates for healthy diets stress the need for consumers to examine sources, processes, economic and political factors that influence the food chain.  Consumer education is imperative.

Similarly information literacy proponents stress the need to educate information consumers at an early age to grapple with the media and info deluge that technology has wrought.  They stress that information literate must be educated to analyze not just the information product but the information chain itself – the complex networks through which information is gathered, analyzed, organized, distributed, preserved, financed and more.

On the production side it takes human beings with time, skills and incentive to forge the information chain upon which the consumer depends and to which the end user contributes.  Whether it’s junk food or junk info, the responsibility rests solely with the consumer.

At the consumer end,  learners must experience, master, experience, practice and dissect the information chain in a learning environment that immerses each consumer in a rich information literacy curriculum.

 

Caveat discupulo — Caviat civitas popularis