On April 26, Credo will offer a free webinar in which Vanessa Otero will discuss her viral Media Bias Chart. The chart is a tool that ranks news sources on two axes: from “Contains Inaccurate/Fabricated Info” to “Original Fact Reporting” and from “Most Extreme Liberal” to “Most Extreme Conservative.”
In a recent interview with Credo, Vanessa Otero, creator of the Media Bias Chart, explained that while overly biased news sources are not new, they have become more common of late. As the presence of fake and biased media has increased, professors and librarians have responded accordingly. Proactively teaching students how to detect fake news, spot bias, and avoid including unreliable sources in their research are essential components of information literacy instruction. With a growing pool of techniques to draw from, we can better equip our communities with the skills they need to discern the credibility of a source.
This week we had the opportunity to chat with Vanessa Otero, creator of the original Media Bias Chart, and discuss some of our most pressing questions about media bias, her news source assessment process, and how we can begin to have these complex conversations with our patrons.
News has emerged in the past week that Cambridge Analytica (CA), a data mining and analysis company that claims to “[use] data to change audience behavior,” received personal data on 50 million Facebook users without those users’ knowledge. Cambridge Analytica and other data businesses use the information they gather to build sophisticated profiles of members of the public, and the average consumer might be surprised by the number of data points available about them.
Their methods are based on the work of Michal Kosinski, a psychometrist who developed a way of using Facebook “likes” to predict user characteristics. Kosinski’s model showed, for example, that using 68 Facebook likes, it was possible to predict a user’s sexual orientation with 88 percent accuracy. Using 300 likes is enough to know the kind of information that the user’s partner knows about them, and with more than 300, Kosinski’s work enables accurate predictions about things the subject doesn’t know about themselves.
Over the past year, media bias has been a trending topic, and educators - particularly librarians - have taken on the task of increasing media and information literacy among students in our institutions. What have we learned this past year as we delved into this complex and, at times, controversial issue? How have we grown as educators and how have we changed our programming to accommodate the public’s need for better education around media bias?
Fake news looks like it may join death and taxes in the ranks of things that will always be with us. Talk of it has become about as ubiquitous as the problem itself, and librarians are daily tasked with finding ways to help students detect duplicitous material as they complete their research. Experienced readers can spot the most egregious of fake news sites. Some sites, however, are far more sophisticated and can be quite successful at appearing as valid as trusted news sources.
It’s a conundrum for researchers, and trying to get students to solely use library subscribed databases and other sources can feel like an uphill battle. Students are going to use the open web, and they need to learn how to evaluate what they find there—not only for truthfulness, but in order to figure out if the source fits their research needs and the guidelines for their assignment.
Part of any robust information literacy program is an emphasis on critical thinking. It’s not enough to know how to do a search—students need to evaluate the various results they find, figuring out not only which is reliable but also which is most relevant to the topic at hand. Even before the research begins, critical thinking is involved in choosing a topic and approaching the creation of a thesis statement that isn’t biased or impossible to answer. Students develop these fundamental skills over time with scaffolded help and guidance from their teachers and professors.
Working against the teaching of critical thinking as an IL skill, however, are the demands facing students and faculty in today’s colleges. In this economic climate, students are understandably more concerned with learning tangible skills that have an obvious career benefit. Professors, meanwhile, are being asked to find ways to include more and more content into each class, which can sideline abstract concepts and critical thinking skills in favor of material that will be “on the test.”
The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education is a vital resource for conceptualizing the fundamental principles of IL in order to apply them to your work on campus. Making the steps from theory to practice comes with many challenges, and conveying the scope of the Framework to faculty can be one such obstacle.
In our second presentation of the Credo InfoLit Learning Community live web series, Dave Harmeyer, Associate Dean of the Azusa Pacific University Libraries, and Janice J. Baskin, a retired professor of English and communications at Azusa Pacific University, will provide deep insights into how to take the Framework—a theoretical text—and apply it to collaboration with faculty.
You’ve probably engaged with the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education as you’ve worked on IL at your institution. It offers a comprehensive approach to developing IL skills in students as they move through their college careers.
In an ideal world, librarian and faculty cooperation would help students make solid gains in information literacy as they moved through semesters and years. In the real world, however, librarians are often the primary conveyors of IL work on campus, and as such, “a change in personnel [can] undo years of effort,” to quote Risë L. Smith’s "Philosophical Shift: Teach the Faculty to Teach Information Literacy." If Information Literacy efforts and development of critical thinking skills are a priority on campus, librarians cannot be the sole stakeholders in this work.