Inquire: What is True?
Every day we encounter information from a multitude of sources. When we read the news or spend time on social media, a constant barrage of data surrounds us. How do we know which information is accurate? How do we evaluate it to ensure that everything we see is reliable and credible? In a world full of fake news and misinformation, it is important to learn the skills of information literacy in order to effectively find and evaluate the information we need.
By the end of this lesson, you will be able to define information literacy and apply information literacy methods to various information sources to identify usable information and avoid misinformation.
Thanks to the Internet, information is now just a button click or swipe away, but how do you know what is true and what is fake news?
Watch: Truth from the Lies
Read: Finding the Right Stuff
Information literacy is the ability to know when there is a need for information and to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use information. It employs the skills to clearly identify what you don’t know, find information, assess its accuracy and value to your needs, and apply it to solve your problem in an effective and efficient manner.
While this has always been a valuable skill to have, in this modern age where information is so easily created and accessed via the Internet, information literacy skills have become a necessity. You can find any information with a few clicks, but just because information is easy to locate does not mean it is true or accurate. Inaccurate or false information is created for many reasons, some of it merely a lack of knowledge, but some is fraudulent. While inaccurate information is prevalent in all mediums, it is especially common in the digital world.
Finding the Right Stuff
How do we find the right information? First, you have to understand the problem or question you are trying to solve; you have to know what you don’t know. Are you trying to replace the brakes on your car, write a term paper, or just figure out how to operate your new tablet? Depending on the question you have, the amount of work you do to find the right information will be different, though the essential steps will be the same.
To begin, you need to choose the right source. This is especially true when searching for information online. With how easy it is to copy and paste information, sometimes losing or actively changing things in the process, it is always better to try to find a primary source — the original document in which information exists, such as the Constitution for the laws that govern the United States, a scientific paper for the published results of an experiment, or a vehicle manual for the proper method of swapping out your brakes. It could even be a recorded interview with a politician or celebrity in which they gave a specific quote. In each of these cases, this source is the first time a piece of information exists. However, it may not always be possible to find such a source. Instead, you may have to rely on secondary sources to provide information based on a primary source.
Secondary sources are documents that relate to or discuss information from a primary source, but were created at a later date and by a different person. Types of secondary sources could be a history textbook, a biography, or a scientific journal article that compares multiple papers to each other. As such, they have at least one level of second hand information impacting the reliability of the original information. This can even go to a third level with tertiary sources which include encyclopedias that simply gather up information from primary and secondary sources to provide a broad look at a topic. While these can sometimes be useful for general knowledge, they are typically not used in academics or business as the information in them is typically too general or outdated. Knowing the source is the first step in evaluating the information.
Next, look at the type of resource or information. Qualitative information deals with measures of relative value or meaning. This type of data is usually presented as observations, interviews, and photographs. One example of anecdotal evidence is when an individual tells a personal story, or gives their observations about an event. Quantitative data is generally numeric in nature and deals with measurements and statistical information. An example would be statistical data about an event or the results from a scientific study. Using both types of data is important, and you should never rely on a single source. By collecting information from multiple sources you can compare them to look for bias or obvious differences that might point to inaccuracies.
Searching for Credibility
While the old saying claims that numbers never lie, they still have to be interpreted. This interpretation allows quantitative data to be skewed. All qualitative data is colored by the bias and viewpoint of the one who creates it. Never take information at face value. Think about why information exists, and the purpose for which it was created.
To look for information credibility, look at the following:
- Objectivity: Be aware of biases and make sure to evaluate information. Is the article reporting the news, or is it an editorial or commentary based on opinions rather than facts?
- Authority: Is the person presenting the information credible? Are they citing credible experts?
- Timeliness: Check the dates on your sources. Is the information you are looking at current or is it outdated?
- Detail: Is all the information presented clearly and specifically? Does it answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how, or does it leave issues up to interpretation?
- Verifiability: Look for the original source for any story or article and make sure it meets all the requirements. You will often see articles with citations that aren’t verifiable.
Applying the Answer
One you have gathered and evaluated all the information you need, you have to use the information. First, synthesize the information you have, and think about how it relates to your question. Then, apply the answers you found to solve your problem. While this may seem simple, in some cases, it can be difficult, especially if the answer you found is contrary to what you were hoping to find. Overcoming your own bias is another important aspect of information technology.
Reflect: All the News You Need
Expand: Is it Fake News?
Think about the types of information you come into contact with on a daily basis. How many meet the criteria for credibility? How many are objective, authoritative, timely, detailed, and verifiable? Most of us do not actively think about these things as we spend time on the Internet reading the news or scrolling through our social media accounts. More importantly, most of us do not actively watch out for fake news.
Fake news can either be deliberate misinformation or meant as satire. In either case, the important part is to be able to identify when the information you see is not real. For these types of false information, there are some things to look for along with the credibility checks mentioned before.
Watch for clickbait headlines — those in all caps, those with many exclamation points, or those making shocking or unbelievable claims. These headlines are designed to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on links to the articles and to other related articles. They also prey on emotional reactions, playing toward bias in order to either reinforce it or to cause outrage.
Look closely at the URL before you click on a link. Is it a site you don’t recognize, or one that is known for unreliable information? At best, you may find yourself presented with fake news; at worst, you may find a virus that infects your computer.
Another method for evaluating such stories is a fact checking website such as Snopes, Politifact, or FactCheck. It is important to remember that such sites may also have bias. In most cases, they provide not only evidence, but also explanations for why they consider a story credible or not.
Common forms of fake news are Internet memes on social media. While beginning as humorous combinations of images and captions, they have evolved into weapons for cyber warfare as they spread misinformation virally across the Internet. Memes can allow a government or group to influence people with nothing more than a little text and some altered or misrepresented photos.
Look at the meme above: an image of a woman and a pair of captions. They give the person in the image an identity and claim she has attempted to pass a law that would likely cause outrage.
None of it is true, however. The woman in the image is not a congresswoman, nor does a bill of this type exist in any government bodies. These facts have not stopped the image from being shared on social media as if it were true. This could have been avoided by thinking critically about the image and evaluating it for credibility.
To investigate this meme, you could look at the website for the Delaware General Assembly and search for the number of the house bill or the name of the congresswoman.
Truth Stranger Than Fiction
At times, you will read an article that is actually credible, and your first instinct will be to dismiss it as fake news. In March of 2017, multiple news sites ran an article about a lawyer in Florida who was representing an arsonist. During the trial, the lawyer’s pants caught on fire. The headlines appeared to be clickbait, but reviewing the story using the other criteria listed here showed it to be credible. It was an event that at face value seemed like fake news, but actually did happen.
Even when some information appears outlandish, you should evaluate it to determine whether it is false or inaccurate. The truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
Check Your Knowledge
Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.
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- Question 1 of 3
True or False: Information literacy is defined as the ability to read off a computer screen.CorrectIncorrect
- Question 2 of 3
True or False: All fake news is deliberate misinformation.CorrectIncorrect
- Question 3 of 3
True or False: A clickbait headline will always indicate fake news.CorrectIncorrect
Additional Resources and Readings
One version of the article mentioned where the “truth is stranger than fiction”
A fact checking website reviewing fake news and Internet memes for accuracy
A fact checking website focused on American political stories
A website focusing specifically on media literacy as a branch of information literacy with curricula and additional resources
- information literacythe ability to know when information is needed and then identify, locate, evaluate, and use that information effectively
License and Citations
Authored and curated by David Thomas for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0
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|Computer Pc Workplace||janeb13||Pixabay||CC 0|