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Combating Misformation and Disinformation on the Web: A Roundup
Posted On May 5, 2020
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Scrutiny of Google and Facebook Increases on Both Sides of the Atlantic’

On Nov. 7, 2017, George Pike looked at the role Google and Facebook play in disseminating fake news. He writes:

Legislators and regulators in both the U.S. and the U.K. are investigating whether Google and Facebook should be considered news media companies or news publishers and therefore be subject to the same regulations and liability as traditional news and media outlets. If classified as publishers, the companies could be subject to libel, slander, copyright infringement, and other legal claims for the content they host and post to their respective sites. …

With huge market shares and billions of users around the planet, the two companies control and influence a massive marketplace of ideas and information, not all of which are legitimate and much of which can often be dangerous. Terrorist organizations are known for using Facebook and other social media platforms for communication and recruiting. Google and Facebook (along with Twitter) were also recently hauled before Congress to testify about Russia’s uses of their platforms to influence the 2016 election cycle. …

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1995 (known as Section 230) declared that ISPs are not to be ‘treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’ This as an attempt to protect the early ISPs such as America Online and CompuServe and the early broadband providers from having to be concerned about information posted on their servers or through their services by third parties. The law was intended to promote the internet’s further development by treating the services more like a library (a simple host for information) than a newspaper (the creator of the information).

In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) expanded protections to ISPs by providing a ‘safe harbor’ from copyright liability for infringing works posted to or on their services. While they are required to take down the infringing works once they are notified (the ‘notice and takedown’ provisions), they are not legally responsible for the postings.

Together, these two laws have allowed the robust development of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and shared media platforms such as Google’s YouTube, because the large hosting companies are essentially free from being legally responsible for information that is posted to their sites by end users, subscribers, and other third parties. To be clear, these third parties can be held liable for their actions, whether they are copyright infringement, defamation, or fraud, but the hosting companies are not liable. …

Both the U.S. and the U.K. are taking a fresh look at this exemption and the relative lack of legislative and regulatory oversight that governs Google and Facebook. … While no formal steps have yet been taken, in remarks before members of Parliament, the chair of U.K. communications regulator Ofcom indicated that her organization will be contributing to the debate on possibly classifying Google and Facebook as publishers and is concerned about ‘the integrity of [the] news. …’ …

In the U.S., constitutional protections of a free press and free speech make regulating Facebook and Google more challenging, but not impossible. The government’s ability to direct the accuracy, bias, and impartiality of private companies is limited by the free speech and free press rights of those companies. However, regulations that are content-neutral are possible. In response to recent assertions that Facebook and Google were accepting political ads from Russia-backed entities, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress to address such concerns. The Honest Ads Act (HR 4077) would require social media services, online advertising entities, and other websites to disclose financial support and other information about the parties behind the advertising in much the same way as for current television, radio, and newspaper political advertising.

Hexes, Hashtags, and Hypersigils: Happy Halloween’

Woody Evans had some tongue-in-cheek things to say on Halloween 2017 when he likened the current political situation to witchcraft. He writes:

Maybe you or some of your friends, like mine, are feeling worn down by this scary year and are horrified by the lack of respect for critical media inquiry, for consensus-building and peer review. The moorings have shifted. The commonweal broke a spoke. The geese are flying backward, and the bats are hunting horses. But don’t worry, trick-or-treaters, it gets worse. …

With the rise of alternative realities, as has been remarked on many times in the last year, we are facing a political crisis that is a symptom of a crisis in our polis. Yes, our secret sauce was a witch’s brew, but now even that sauce is overheated and splitting in the cauldron. The people and the media’s ability to civilly disagree has broken down and left us vulnerable to outside attack.

But I propose that a more sinister attack is arising from this condition, and it is being exploited by sorcerers on the inside. …

The horror show here is the radically expanded use of sigils by our new government. We have seen the president launch sigils against his enemies—renaming them with some belittling caricature and repeating the spell again, again, again. Now, when I say ‘Lock her up!’ do you think you might have some guess at the ‘her’ to whom the statement refers? Does ‘Lyin’ Ted’ refer to Theodore Anthony Nugent or to Rafael Edward Cruz? The spells have already enchanted many millions. …

Media machines that ask hard questions of those in power or that speak truth to those in power are ‘fake news.’ ‘Not a lot of people know [various things],’ says the president (even when we do).

Spells spill out from the U.S. capital, enchanting and confusing the uneducated and mis-educated masses. Those masses are the people we information professionals serve, and it is our responsibility to break the spells by demanding evidence and teaching the ability to entertain difficult questions about complex issues. …

This is our new Halloween, and there will be no dawn unless enough of us pour our salt in a circle on the Earth, banish the demons of samsara, and demand the re-establishment of a rational and enlightened discourse from our leaders and our fellow countrymen.

‘Libraries Keep a Resourceful Eye on the President’
Mount Holyoke resource guideOn June 6, 2017, George Pike compiled a list of the resource guides libraries are sharing about the current administration (some may no longer be active). He writes:

The 2016 election cycle generated a nearly nonstop wave of controversy, questions, ‘breaking news,’ disagreements, and challenges that seems to have left a never-ending trail of turmoil in its wake. Throw in a new vocabulary of terms such as alt-right, alternative facts, bigly, deplorables, extreme vetting, fake news, and yuuuge, and you have a situation that begs inquiry, clarification, and understanding.

And libraries have stepped up. Taking on their traditional role of offering a place for patrons ‘to inquire, to study, to evaluate,’ libraries are gathering information about the candidates, the election, the administration, Congress, and the issues that have arisen in the last months and are disseminating it in as neutral, nonpartisan, and comprehensive a manner as possible. …

A scan of [library LibGuides] shows a wide array of thoughtful and comprehensive collections, with formats ranging from broad overviews of our governmental systems to specific issue-oriented lists. …

I have focused on a selection of comprehensive resource guides and am presenting them in roughly chronological order, beginning with the 2016 election campaign through the recent issues and events of the current administration and Congress. All of these guides can be identified through Google searches of the school or library and the title of the guide.

The following are some of the resources Pike discusses:

‘What’s Behind Fake News and What You Can Do About It’
Kathy Dempsey wrote the following for the We the People column in the May 2017 issue of Information Today:

For the past 6 months, I’ve watched with great interest, and great despair, as the concept of fake news has become a major point of discussion around the world. Of course, too many people don’t understand what fake news really is (intentionally misleading articles, often published for profit or other gain) and what it is not (any news that you don’t agree with). …

The following is a brief chronological list of factors that brought us to this point:

  • There was a switch from the limited hours of network television (remember when your set went to static at midnight?) to 24-hour cable TV. …
  • As the internet grew more ubiquitous and as simple blogging platforms replaced the need for deep HTML knowledge, anyone with access and a little know-how could become a ‘publisher.’
  • Social media sharing has driven the desire to see new news not each day, but each hour, if not more often. …
  • While most people have entered the wide world of online information, few really understand it. …

Librarians are all about information education—how to find it, how to verify it, how to use it, and how to cite it. So why are you not already at the forefront of this movement? …

So I urge you to be responsible. I challenge you to be brave. I implore you to dig into this problem and get your hands dirty. Guide your communities back toward reality. Because as politicians and stakeholders are seriously doubting the usefulness of libraries in the internet age, they’re tempted to cut your budgets. It’s vital to prove your continued value, and this is a timely, powerful way to do it. It’s one thing to repeat the old trope, ‘People need libraries now more than ever,’ and it’s another thing to get out there and prove it.

‘Filtering Out Fake News: It All Starts With Media Literacy’
namle.netThe inaugural We the People column, in the January/February 2017 issue of Information Today, was written by Lauree Padgett. She shares:

For those involved in mass media—the journalists on the front lines, the professors who teach about it, and the people involved in publishing it—the idea that fake news exists and is on the rise is old news. And yet, post-election 2016, it is becoming a hot topic across all outlets. …

This issue is at the heart of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE;, which sent out an email on Nov. 9 saying that it is ‘reflecting on the role the media played in the election and what we can do better to advocate for media literacy education.’ …

NAMLE’s executive director, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, took the time to share with me how she thinks media literacy can best be championed. In her view, ‘every step of the [media] chain from content creator to social media platform to user must be held more accountable.’ She supports a rating system of news outlets based on a number of factors (source material, credentials, bias, fact-checking, etc.) to make the lines of fact versus fiction less blurred. Another point she stresses is the need for people to understand the difference between researched journalism and opinion and commentary. Media outlets, she says, must be clear about these differences. …

Lipkin is emphatic that media literacy must be taught from the earliest grades. ‘Kids are interacting, consuming, [and] creating media within the first year of their life! How are we not seeing an absolute revolution in the education system to better prepare our youth for the world they are living in?’ She says that the way to ensure this revolution and to give teachers and school systems support is to pass legislation in every state that requires media literacy inclusion in curricula. Also essential is mandating professional development so teachers can learn how to use the media literacy framework. As Lipkin so aptly puts it, ‘We need to embrace technology and media and empower students to use it. We need to stop trying to protect kids and start preparing them.’

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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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