by Davis Erin Anderson

While misinformation is nothing new, it’s safe to say our current media environment creates unforeseen challenges. Luckily, library workers aren’t backing down.

We received a number of great proposals for our symposium on misinformation at METRO on Friday, June 1 (RSVP now) regarding the myriad ways in which librarians are combatting misinformation. Whether through in-person engagement or by turning the mechanisms of spreading falsified information on their head, library workers are clearly taking up the gauntlet against misinformation as part of their role in assisting the public with their information needs.

Congratulations to Ben Himmelfarb, Christina Boyle, Rachel King, and Darcy Gervasio, our presenters at (Mis)informed: Propaganda, Misinformation, Disinformation, and Our Culture. Their session descriptions are below.


Present-Truth: Navigating the World of Fake (and Real) News, presented by Ben Himmelfarb, White Plains Public Library

As a public librarian, Ben Himmelfarb felt compelled to address the issue of “fake news” and information literacy in late 2016 and early 2017 for a few reasons. First, people were talking about it — at the reference desk, in staff offices, and during other library programs. Second, as a supplier of media (both mainstream and fringe), Ben felt it was part of a librarian’s basic mission to help people navigate the world of fake (and real) news.

Ben took the format and resources he created out of the library and held workshops with a youth group for young women of color, a group of retired men, a current events discussion group that met in a diner, an adult education group based out of a synagogue, our local Rotary Club, and an organization that helped seniors maintain independence and integration in the community.

Ben learned many things: people wanted to talk about “fake news,” and they wanted to do it together. There was no push back at all about our library offering programming on this topic.

In his presentation, Ben will share some reasons he believes this was so: most people were relieved to step away from debating the veracity of specific stories, and people were eager to give their time and attention to constructive dialogue.


What Do You Meme it’s Not Credible? Using Memes to Counter Misleading Information, presented by Christina Boyle, College of Staten Island

In her session, Christina Boyle will highlight the significance of memes in relation to information sharing and evaluation. Since memes are ubiquitous within the digital social landscape, they are often responsible for widespread misinformation.

Memes appeal to internet users since they are often succinct, visually eye-catching, and easily digestible. Their visual nature is conspicuous within social media feeds, quickly capturing attention while users scroll through a stream of countless posts. Anyone can create a meme, and once they are shared on social media, it becomes difficult or impossible to determine who the original creator was and what authority they had to propagate information on the associated topic.

This interactive session will underscore how memes can also be used as information literacy instruction tools by librarians. Since memes can be created for free with virtually no specialized technical skills, Christina will propose that librarians take advantage of this format and create memes that encourage the evaluation of information (especially that which is circulated on social media). The session will include some tips and ideas for creating engaging and informative memes that can help promote critical thinking and information literacy.​


Who Pays for “Free” Information? Online News and Native Advertising, presented by Rachel King, LIU Brooklyn

While “information wants to be free,” the journalists who produce digital news expect to be paid. Given the fact that traditional advertising hasn’t really succeeded for online publications, where can we expect the sponsorship of news going to come from in the future?

One possibility is so-called “native advertising,” a powerful form of sponsorship that deliberately mimics journalism without adhering to quite the same standards. Native advertising offers factually accurate information, and therefore isn’t “fake news.” Still, it is shaped by the biases of its sponsors, and it often misinforms by omission.

This presentation would help librarians better understand this category of pseudo-journalism.


What’s New in Fake News Detection: Do automatic detection apps really work?, presented by Darcy Gervasio, SUNY Purchase College

How do automatic fake news detection tools work and what is their future? Recognizing that no app can replace critical thinking or media literacy, what additional strategies can we employ to stop the spread of fake news and malicious accounts?

This presentation will serve as a “living literature review” to provide librarians and information professionals with a deeper understanding of the technology behind fake news detection and to critically examine the advantages and drawbacks of automatic apps such as B.S. Detector, Factmata, Project FiB, CheckThis, and others.


RSVP for the symposium here. Keynote speakers include danah boyd, President and Founder, Data & Society and David Carroll, assistant professor at Parsons School of Design.

We’re excited to host a Propaganda Party with Interference Archive following the event. If you can’t make the symposium and would like to join the party, RSVP here.