Critical thinking skills are more important now than they ever have been before. While it is truly wonderful that platforms such as blogs and social media sites are coming to be seen as credible sources, proving that authority is constructed and contextual, consumers of information need to be aware of the potential for bias and false reporting (intentional or unintentional). According to the Information Literacy frameworks put forth by the American Library Association, experts are able to maintain an “openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought” and the novice learner will be able to “ask relevant questions about origins [and] context” (“Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education”, 2015).
With this new openness to sources previously deemed unprofessional or unreliable comes a greater responsibility on the part of information seekers and consumers to do their own research and fact checking. While many may believe that these actions are only necessary when completing academic assignments, or that trusted authorities publishing information online or in print have already performed these actions for them, there are many real world examples that prove this is untrue.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came upon this post by a beloved Young Adult author:
Having read not only the novel mentioned by Rainbow, Eleanor & Park, but also all of the author’s other published works, I knew she never included explicit material in her stories. Curious, I clicked the link in the tweet, which brought me to the Facebook page of a radio host based in Portland, OR. This man, Lars Larson, had shared a screenshot of a mature scene purportedly written by Rainbow. A Google search of one line of the scene published on this man’s page turned up nothing more than a link to a website for fan fiction. The author herself commented on the post, asking that it be removed because the information provided alongside the image was false. The post, which called for Eleanor & Park to be removed from middle and high school libraries, was eventually taken down, but not until it had been up for six hours and shared by more than 300 people.
The reason I mention this story in the context of the authority framework is that Lars Larson’s name has a blue check next to it. Although this only means that the account truly belongs to the public figure named, many casual consumers of information may take this to mean that the man is an authority and that his word may be taken as is without question. The fact that he is a radio show host, whose show is described as “Honestly Provocative Talk Journalism,” lends to the notion of his credibility. The majority of the comments on Larson’s post calling for the censorship of Rainbow’s novel were in full support of him, despite the fact that his post was inaccurate. Had they performed their own research, rather than relying on a supposed authority, they would have realized this inaccuracy.
It is important that information literacy instructors teach learners to approach all information with an “informed skepticism” (“Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education”, 2015) because the consequences of using misinformation are greater than receiving a poor grade on an academic paper. In this instance, Lars Larson’s mistake could have led to the censorship of a book that does not contain any inappropriate material.
“Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education” (February 9, 2015). American Library Association. Accessed February 8, 2017 from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework Document ID: b910a6c4-6c8a-0d44-7dbc-a5dcbd509e3f