By Sally Clark
The issue of “fact checking” exploded in the media before the first presidential debate. The two campaigns vehemently disagreed about whether the debate moderators should fact check the candidates in real time. Janet Brown, the executive director of the commission that organizes the debates, told CNN’s Reliable Sources that it is ultimately up to the “independent, smart journalists” that have been chosen to moderate to decide how to handle it. And yet, the considerable lack of responsible, timely fact checking by the media throughout this election cycle has contributed, in part, to a proliferation of untruths and ratcheted up fear mongering across the nation.
False claims and factually challenged information are not new to politics, as we well know, but we currently seem to be barreling down a misinformation superhighway on a party bus. And it is so easy for us to join the party – see something that feeds into our particular source of outrage, hastily click a share button to send the item to all like-minded “friends” without substantiating the claims, and we are right on board. Mother Jones’ recent article, “The Fear-Hate-Anger Click Machine,” calls it “the reign of the rage-share.” Unfortunately, we have all seen the polarizing impact on public discourse. Public calls for people to fact check before they share have had less than stellar results. For example, the Santa Monica Public Library encouraged people on Facebook to check snopes.com (among other sources) or ask a librarian before posting information. This generated an immediate cynical response about the unreliability of snopes.com. Ironically, the evidence provided to substantiate this statement was a satirical article claiming the CEO of Snopes had been arrested for fraud and corruption.
It is clear that we, as educators who work to facilitate information literacy, can play an essential role in turning around this growing perpetuation of false information. We have the opportunity to help our students directly apply the informational skills they build in our classrooms to the world around them. We can emphasize that finding and considering authoritative sources on all sides of the issue, recognizing authorial bias, requiring factual support and evidence, and applying all the other good tenets of critical reading and thinking, are important to becoming a global citizen. We can remind them of the responsibility that goes with sharing information – we need to be sure of accuracy and truth. In doing so, we can also check ourselves, for the immediate lure of the share button can charm us all.
In addition, our progress with inclusive excellence is reliant upon adherence to informed truth. Diversity of well-informed thought promotes healthy dialogue; fear-mongering diverts and denigrates it. The more we filter out harmful misinformation, the stronger and healthier we will be as a learning community. So, as we navigate these challenging, divisive times, our encouragement of responsible, informed sharing will serve us all well.