Alternative Facts, Fake News, and Digital Literacy

By Traci Cothran

There was a time when we didn’t need to define what a fact was – or rather, we all understood that it meant the same thing. It was a fact – it was the truth; the rest was fiction or opinion. There were clear, credible sources, and there were those that weren’t. Now students, teachers, and librarians (as well as the rest of the American populous) must grapple with distinguishing fact, fake news, and “alternative facts” on a near-constant basis. While the Internet gives us a plethora of easy-to-access information, it’s up to us to discern what is factual and what is not.

To do that, we need to start asking hard questions of everything we read and hear – such as:

  • Where did that Facebook “news” post originate?
  • Is this news or a “newsvertisement?”
  • Are these statistics or this sound bite taken out of context to distort their meaning?
  • Who penned this article? Do they have a specific agenda that influences their writing?
  • Who created this website and how are they getting paid for their content?
  • When you reverse-search the image used in the article, do you find different source content?

Frankly, this isn’t easy – it takes time and utilizes critical thinking skills. And we each have to check our own predispositions and beliefs when we ask these questions, so we don’t just accept the “news” that fits our world view.

One way to help hone digital literacy skills is by using reputable sources, like those we publish at Gale. A major part of our work involves collecting facts, and rejecting opinion, conjecture, and misinformation to ensure what we deliver to students, faculty, and library users is accurate and authoritative. In addition to Gale-created content, we also offer diverse newspaper, journal, magazine, and multimedia content in many of our products, and their sources are clearly labeled. Our Opposing Viewpoints In Context database offers just what it says – viewpoints for, and viewpoints against, on certain topics, again with all sources of content clearly identified.

Our commitment to our customers here at Gale remains as it has always been: to deliver high-quality, factual information on myriad topics, delivered via ebooks, archives, databases, and more.

Or, as Sergeant Joe Friday said, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” (Did you know he didn’t actually say “Just the facts, ma’am” as is generally believed? Per Snopes.com.)

Below are some helpful web resources that can help student and patrons distinguish real from fake news:

Traci J. Cothran


About the Author


Traci Cothran is a manager in Gale’s Database Program and a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale’s World History In Context.  

Leave a Comment