Tag Archives: information literacy

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

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Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering truth starts with independent thinking

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.  Albert Einstein

The fake news flap, having gone viral, is now a topic of social hand wringing. It’s trendy to fret about fake advertising while extremists charge that fake news is a phantom fashioned by the mainstream media to discredit the “competition.”

With all the lamentations and calls for censorship, little attention has focused on realistic solutions to what is in truth a pernicious threat to our politics, physical and mental health, individual and societal equilibrium.

Thinking about how to cope with the reality of fake news – which will only get more sophisticated — inevitably leads me back to the realization that the solution lies not with the source or even the target of misinformation and disinformation – the power, and thus the solution, rests with the “missing link” – the receiver of information.

In earlier posts my focus has been on the need to hone the basic skills of the post-truth age – how to locate and then evaluate information, how to relate sources of information to good decision-making, whatever the context. Clearly, “information literacy” is an essential first step.

The challenge is to go beyond find, assess and apply skills to deal with the fact that the receiver of information – whether student or voter, politician or parent. We are sentient human beings whose mode for processing information is insanely complex. Granted it’s more complicated than censoring or censuring the producer or connector; focus on the receiver, the “missing link” on the information chain, recognizes that information is inert until a human being gives it life, puts it to work, turns information into an opinion or incentive to act.

The first step is to consider the situation and condition of the information user – what does the user need? To date, the emphasis has been on information skills. My thought is that we need to know more about the condition of the receiver, in particular the role of self-confidence as a component of critical thinking. It takes self-confidence to welcome new ideas and match them against our own beliefs.

In an intriguing essay entitled “losing the courage of convictions” Timothy Ogden presents this puzzle:

There’s an old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.  Unfortunately, it’s probably got things exactly backward. The more you stand for and defend the beliefs you strongly hold, the more likely you are to fall for anything – anything that confirms your existing beliefs.”

 A thought to ponder…..

The initial challenge is to fire up inquiring minds so that they have the confidence to assess, compare and weigh the facts. Only then comes the tools to locate, then assess and evaluate the relevance and truth of information – broadly defined to include everything from tweets to infographics to juried journals.

Though skepticism gets a bad rap, the skeptic, aka critical thinker, possesses and builds both the confidence and the skills to examine assumptions, weigh alternatives, confront one’s own or others’ biases.   Confidence sparks a sense of inquiry and independent thinking. Success will favor the seeker who is master of the tools.  The challenge of this chaotic era is to envision, then work to create and sustain, a society of confident seekers of truth.

 

 

 

Relax, learn, then resolve to resist post-truth thinking

The goal of today’s post is simply to relieve the stress of the politically charged season by suggesting interesting and easy stuff that promises to divert the agitated mind or volatile conversation. Without leaving your cushy armchair you can liberate your mind to wander at its own speed. Let you thoughts free flow through the overwhelming digital world that overflows with ideas best communicated in more than 140 characters. Get comfortable, clutch your clicker, catch up on some truthful information and creative ideas that probably slipped through the media melee.

To set the mood, check out “Life Satisfaction in the Internet Age – Changes in the Past Decade.” Ask yourself, are you better off now? (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215300790)

Minnesotans deserve to read beyond the disgusting headlines and to take pride in the academic aspects of the institution. Some random bright spots of a digital sort:

Explore some of the ever-expanding digital treasures preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society

If you prefer to stress out by focusing on survival in the post-truth era you’ll find an engaging battle about scientific thinking in this ongoing exchange. Follow Intercept’s challenge to Sense about Science and Sense about Science USA. The discourse is understandable to the lay reader who gets to decide wherein lies the truth. https://theintercept.com/2016/11/15/how-self-appointed-guardians-of-sound-science-tip-the-scales-toward-industry/

Should you have the good sense and option to relax and enjoy the season, here are a couple of digital delights you really don’t want to miss:

Though New Year resolutions pre-date the Post-Truth era, the time is now to “go high” with a 2017 resolution to counter fake facts and false assumptions that  distract and distort.  Resolve instead to capitalize on the power of the web to seek and share the truth and to assure that every voter and potential voter possesses the digital age information assessment skills required to preserve this democracy.

The truth remains — the fault lies in ourselves

“I want to oppose the idea that the school has to teach directly that special knowledge and those accomplishments which one has to use later directly in life. The demands of life are much too manifold to let such a specialized training in school appear possible […] The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost.” Albert Einstein

Fake news is not a fad. Fake facts are pernicious seeds planted with malicious care in the fertile minds of individuals ill-equipped to resist the implicit threat.

Individually and institutionally – I would argue in the latter case it’s intentionally – we have neither the skills nor the will to make the effort to examine the facts behind the facade. We have enabled ourselves and our society to become pawns, preyed upon in a game in which we are payers but not players.

Right now we are in a quick fix mode – eager to leave it to others – e.g. Mark Zuckerberg and his tribe – to label, limit, post warning signs or otherwise save us from ourselves. In other words, to put the fox in charge of the chicken coop, or the decider-in-chief the host of the technology titans.

As usual, Shakespeare got it right: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.”

Pope Francis picked up on Shakespeare’s thought with his observation that spreading fake news is a sin… http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2016/1208/Why-Pope-Francis-says-fake-news-is-a-sin

Misinformation and disinformation have always lurked on the fringes of fact. Stephen Colbert called it “truthiness.”  Technology spreads the virus. Finances raise fake disinformation to an art, packaging the prevarications in irresistible 140 character snippets, almost authentic press releases, and bulletin bursts designed to capture the press, the untrained newsy or the digital gossip. So now the word of the year is “post-truth.” (I would have called that a phrase.)

And still, we point the public finger at fake news – the pernicious power, the packaging, the source of the lies. We ignore the fact that the fault lies not only in the intentional lies but in ourselves.

Public awareness offers us an unprecedented opportunity to grapple with the reality that we as citizens of a democracy share the civic and moral imperative to hone –and pass on — the skills and habits essential to this information age.

The time is now to focus on the missing link* in the information chain – The starting point has to be our admission that “the fault lies not with the stars but in ourselves.”

* See earlier post: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

 

 

 

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……