“Fact Check Yourself Before You Fact Wreck Yourself”: A Primer on Information Literacy Resources

We have all fallen for fake news at some point in our lives and we can all learn skills to help prevent that from happening again. Technology can change our world for the better and help us combat the problem of fake news. Facebook and Google are increasingly incorporating fact checking and ways to see if sources are verified into their platforms, and we even have Illinois students working hard to solve the problem of fake news in social media from a technological perspective.

Snopes, Politifact, and Washington Post Fact Checker, are all great places to start. Plus, Snopes for example, has pulled pranks to make sure you aren’t too reliant on one source, which may sound bad but they want you to remain skeptical of all sources, and not become too dependent on one source.

However,  it’s more important to really learn that just because something sounds like it could be true does not mean that it isn’t complete baloney. My friend Jesse E., a playwright based in New York City, came up with a clever saying to think about before sharing any news stories on social media: “Fact check yourself before you fact wreck yourself”. Overall, you need to attain a certain level of information literacy.

What is information literacy?

  • Critically thinking about your sources of information, where they come from, and why they were created.
    • Even when that requires extra effort
      • Even when you are just scrolling through headlines on social media

How old is this problem?

Older than you may think!

The first fake photograph, was created in 1840 by Hippolyte Bayard, an early pioneer of photography. Specifically, in his Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man — a very meta demonstration of his photography process — he claimed he was a photography pioneer who committed suicide over getting overlooked for Daguerre and his Daguerrotype.

And of course feel free to debate or suggest more media literacy must reads in the comments!

What else hasn’t changed?

Statistics are still hard and people do crazy things with numbers all the time. Luckily, you can get a good overview of statistics and common errors here through our small but mighty non-circulating collection of stats books. And don’t be afraid to ask your wildest stats questions to our experts here!

Interested in becoming more information literate or helping your students become more information literate?

Digital Zombies

Inspired by Max Brooks’ World War Z, “Digital Zombies” is a hybrid online and in person information literacy scavenger hunt where players learn about and eventually make their own fake historical sources. This resource was created by history and information science researchers based in California and Ontario originally for students in the University of California system, but easily adapted to other locales.

“Sleeping with the Enemy: Wikipedia in the College Classroom.”

This provocatively titled article focuses on research done at Lycoming College, where professors decided to confront Wikipedia and online source use issues in a creative way, by having students actually write their own Wikipedia articles. This study shows a great way to get students interested in how sources are created and contribute to a source that the public often relies on for general reference information.

A great journalism LibGuide from FIU chock full of good tips can be found here at http://libguides.fiu.edu/c.php?g=626398&p=4374383 for those who enjoy LibGuides.

The Programming Librarian (ALA) has also recently put out a list of fake news fighting resources!

And of course our very own information literacy information portal!

SourceLab is a course sequence and digital history initiative here on campus!

And remember, Scholarly Commons is a great place to begin your quest for the truth!

Review: The Infographic History of the World by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball

The Infographic History of the World, created by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball, consists of various infographics with accompanying commentaries. You can find this book and read it at Scholarly Commons, near our other infographic and visualization books! You can also check it out from a nearby library!

Overall, this book is a compelling read and an interesting idea as a project and some of the infographics were really well done. This book demonstrates the power of infographics to help us present and break down important topics to wider audiences. Yes, this isn’t supposed to be a serious read, but there was a lot I did not like about this book, specifically throughout I got a sense that:

Statue of a person with hands over face. Located by the Main Library entrance facing the UGL

Somewhere a political scientist is crying…     Photo credit to E. Hardesty and the Main Library with the original image found at https://flic.kr/p/rw2Ldz

  • “The story of the last 4,000 years is one of nations being founded, breaking apart, going to war, and coming together” (D’Efilippo & Ball, 2013). For those confused why this is a problem, “nation” is a very modern term and concept so that’s a serious anachronism.
  • Why is the theocracy symbol notably non-Western and not used for the English Civil War, which was apparently about republicanism?
  • A history of the “Net” that doesn’t mention Minitel.
  • First flight goes to the Wright Brothers. No mention of Santos-Dumont or the controversy (for everyone who noticed that inexplicable early aircraft cameo at this year’s Olympic opening).
  • The book is very Anglo-centric.

Sloppy stats!

 

  • I’m suspicious anytime Luxembourg wins something. Are they really the biggest drinkers or how does their small population make this data less meaningful?
  • “Absolute number of cannabis users by region” Absolute? Really?
  • Overall, not enough information on where and how a lot of the statistics were generated and why we should trust those sources. Yes, there is an appendix on the back that explains this to some extent in tiny text but not helpful for people who just glance at the infographic and assume it’s giving us useful information about the world.

Visualization issues!

 

  • Emphasizing form over function — much like the new Macbooks with so few ports they are practically landlocked — many of the infographics fail to present the information in a way that is appropriate for what they are trying to present. For example, the Mona Lisa paint by numbers probably would have been more effective as a timeline.
    • Maybe I’m just too attached to the idea of timelines being well on a line or perhaps maybe the spiral depicted on the book’s cover art.
    • Some of the infographics have way too many things going on and are trying to make too many points at once.
  • The colors on the mental illness brain are too close (and I can’t imagine how that would look to someone who is colorblind), and there are other examples where the colors are very close and render the infographic pretty, but hard to actually use to learn something from.

Finally, the authors’ claim of “not trying to be political” / “this is just for fun” is no excuse for not being thorough especially with information targeted to the public. Full disclosure or not, artists and journalists still need to be careful because what people see can influence the way they think about things. Infographics are not a neutral presentation of information, certain choices were made, and audiences need to think about who made these choices and why. Not as bad as some of the examples on this Visual Literacy and Infographics blog post, but still problematic. Please, do not be reckless when making infographics!

To learn more how to create infographics of your own check out our Savvy Researcher workshop: Introduction to Infographics Using Piktochart!

If you are an undergraduate interested in conducting research and becoming information and visual literate there is an entire set of classes in the history department for this through SourceLab. Take a look at their schedule or talk to Professor Randolph to learn more!