In 2018 the term ‘fake news‘ is something we hear every day. Political figures throw it into the conversation everytime they hear something they don’t like, and Facebook and Google fiddle with algorithms to try to convice us that they are working on preventing its spread. What fake news, and its associates, clickbait, astroturfing, alternative facts and the like do is redirect our attention away from the truth – by creating a distraction, an appeal to impulsive clicks or a manipulation of our opinion. A fantastic paper titled ‘We need to talk about fake news‘ by Glen Harper, Librarian for Monash Public Library Services gives a great overview of some of the key terms used when discussing the phenomenon of fake news, and the ways that fake news successfully flourishes.
What has always disturbed me about the rise of fake news is that as the need for critical information literacy rises at an astonishing rate, the number of librarian and teacher librarian roles in schools continues to fall. Library staff are trained at a tertiary level to understand and teach information literacy, web literacy, digital literacy – all the literacies! – needed to effectively evaluate and manage the vast amounts of information we interact with each day – and yet for some reason (which I cannot personally grasp) they are often the first to go when budget cuts are needed. Sure, we can all just ‘Google’ for any information we want or need – but that doesn’t mean we know how to navigate or use this information wisely. After all, having a swimming pool in your backyard doesn’t mean you automatically know how to swim.
Furthermore, teacher librarians, librarians and teachers seem to have no public voice within educational policy discussion, where decisions about what is important to teach are made. We hear and read about the importance of allowing students to access technology, but significant, deep debate about the underpinning capabilities required once this technology is in the hands of students is glossed over – the assumption is that students are digital natives who are apparently born with the knowledge of how to navigate the digital world. We know this is not the case.
Then in the past two weeks, two people whose opinion I greatly admire, Bryan Alexander and Alec Couros threw an even more disturbing spanner into the works. Fake video is coming. Bryan shared a post in late January asking how we will respond to this development, while Alex tweeted quite plainly that we as a society are just not ready to cope with it:
Watch this. Seriously.https://t.co/8vTGWEVkzz
I’ve been talking about this reality for months (if not years) but it continues to get more real. Society isn’t ready for this.#digcit #identity #fakenews #eci832
— Dr. Alec Couros (@courosa) February 7, 2018
While at the moment this seems limited to the unsavoury application of face swapping in pornographic videos, we all know how quickly technology develops, and it won’t be long until manipulating a video will be as easy as photo manipulation. This excellent video (shared by Alec in the Tweet above) explains in an easy to follow and entertaining way the scary potential ahead of us:
Bryan Alexander’s post outlines several possible responses to this tech development – ranging from ignorant acceptance or revulsion to legal battles or open hostilities. Many of these could happen. Personally I hope the last option he suggests, the development of a playful new way of storytelling is the only outcome, but I know that human nature will prevent this from being the only way faked videos are used. By the way, please take the time to read this post. It is both informing, insightful and optimistic.
So living in the real world, we need to start teaching as though we are in the real world. Focusing on new apps and funky edtech is cool and exciting, but what is more important is that students have the literacies and the understanding to deal with a world of information where you literally cannot believe your eyes. Constantly interrogating information for credibility can be exhausting – but this is where we are at, and so librarians, teacher librarians, teachers and parents need to start talking about this from as early as possible.
After such a rant-y, cynical post, I’d like to end on a positive note, so it’s nice to share the many wonderful resources available which tackle teaching students about credible information. After all, the internet is a weapon of mass distraction (from the truth) but paradoxically, the best weapon we have in the fight against fake news.