By Traci Cothran
So a man reads a story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop, and he decides to take action—taking a rifle into the restaurant and firing it before he is stopped, fortunately without harming anyone. This really happened, but the problem is the child sex ring story wasn’t true, and thus “Pizzagate” was born.
I have a lot of questions about this incident, but the underlying issue is the proliferation of fake news and our willingness to believe anything we see on the internet and in our social media feeds. Anyone can create a story, grab an image and post it—that’s not news, it’s fiction. I recall reading one quote on Facebook attributed to the presidential candidate I did not support. I laughed—it was funny—and it reinforced my feelings about this candidate, so I almost didn’t question it. But it seemed a little too good to be true so I went on factcheck.org (a nonpartisan vetter of political discourse) and discovered that the quote was not verified in the magazine cited—it was fake news. But what if I hadn’t checked, believed it was true, and even fostered further misinformation by sharing it? Then not only would my opinion have been shaped by this erroneous info, but others’ would have been, too.
Librarians and teachers are well aware of this problem. While the internet has flung wide the doors of information to everyone, mixed in with the facts are untruths—yet the two often have the same appearance. Unless we think critically and take the time to verify the accuracy of what we are reading and watching, these conjured-up stories spread like wildfire, and shape people’s thoughts and actions—even resulting in dangerous outcomes, as with Pizzagate.
Perhaps now more than ever, the role of the librarian is indispensable in helping students discern reputable sources of information from those that aren’t. Gale is proud to be a partner in this effort, and we continue to work every day to provide authoritative, fact-based information stated without bias or agenda. It seems there will always be people who deny the moon landing, the Holocaust, and now even the Sandy Hook tragedy, but you can be confident that our resources—databases, archives, and eBooks—are factual, and students and adults everywhere can use them with confidence (no fact-checking needed!).