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Libraries in the Fake News

Supposedly, librarians are going to help the world deal with “fake news.” We’ve been hearing a lot about that for months. It’s going to be an uphill battle, though.

Consider this article, California School Defunded for Having Too Many White Students. It’s from a “news” site called Newsline. It must be real news because it has “news” right there in the title.

The headline is certainly provocative, isn’t it? It’s not true, but it’s definitely provocative.

There’s a hint of truth, though. There is a California school that is losing some additional state funding under a school integration program begun in 1978 that guarantees extra funding for schools with more than 70% non-white students.

The school in California now has more than 30% white students, and so it no longer qualifies for the funds. That seems to be a simple statement of fact, and what websites do with it shows the difference between news and propaganda.

One of the absences of these propaganda articles from both left and right is an absence of links. They want to make it as hard as possible to get back to any original sources.

For example, this article claims that “a parent told the local ABC News Affiliate” something. If you Google the actual quote, you see that it only shows up in right-wing echo chamber sites.

If you search it in Google News, it shows up in two places, this Fox News article, and this New York Post article, which acknowledges that the whole thing was first published by Fox News. Both of those have headlines acknowledging that the school is “losing funding.”

Fox News does link to the ABC article published 12 days before its own article. That one had a headline saying that “school budget cuts due to high white student percentage sparks outrage.”

It’s pretty clear the Newsline “reporter” didn’t rely on the ABC article, because the Newsline article reads like someone changed just enough of the wording of the Fox News article to avoid plagiarism charges.

The lack of links isn’t a one time thing. One of the top articles on Newsline at the time of writing is about a student supposedly suspended from a college “for objecting to her assertion that Jesus was not crucified, and that the disciples did not believe that he was God.”

The only “evidence” is a claim by the student, and it’s not like suspended students ever lie to make themselves sound better. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. Suspensions are pretty rare, but without more evidence we can’t say for sure.

But the gullible believe what they want to believe before they have examined the evidence.

Without linking to them, that article cites other articles from the right-wing echo chamber that themselves peddle dubious news.

For example, there’s something called the “Central Florida Post,” which almost sounds like a news site. It published this article with the headline, “Rollins college suspends student after he challenged radical muslim hate speech.”

The lead sentence is a doozy: “Not even a year after Radical Islamic terrorist Omar Mateen killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Rollins College officials are punishing a Christian Conservative student who challenged a liberal Muslim professor and radicalized Muslim student during a conversation on the application of Sharia Law.”

Are those two events related? Nope. And only one of them is proven to be true.

The article claims that the student “confirmed to the Central Florida Post that… [a professor] has made outlandish claims against him and even filed a false police report.”

But he doesn’t “confirm” that. He claims it. A source can only confirm something that has been gotten from another source, and the student is the only source here. The college and the professor haven’t commented at all.

That article is cited, and linked to, in The College Fix, which is at least slightly better, perhaps because it’s aimed at college students, but who knows.

The headline is still awful: “Christian student suspended after challenging Muslim prof’s claim that Jesus wasn’t crucified.” Evidence? Zilch.

However, the lead sentence is accurate: “A student says he was suspended from Rollins College for challenging his Muslim professor’s anti-Christian assertions, including her claim that Jesus’ crucifixion never took place.”

Yes, a student does say that. And that’s the only thing we can prove.

That article doesn’t get a comment from the professor, but it does cite, and link to, a post she made to the ACLU Facebook page. She  “posted on Facebook to the ACLU of Florida, complaining about an unnamed student that is “making my life hell this semester. This one is spewing hatred at me, de-railing class, and just sent me a hateful email threatening me…I want to know if there is a way to hold the individual responsible for his harassment and hate speech. Any ideas? Thank you!”

Warning: don’t click through to that if you want to hold on to your idealistic view that humans aren’t mostly bigots.

Of course, the professor should have known better than asking for advice about how to deal with hate speech via social media, because all she got was more hate speech, because the internet is a cesspool of hate and ignorance.

A lot of people posted from the echo chamber and don’t have any more information than we do about which side is closest to the facts, but they do have their little minds made up.

The librarians who are going to save us from fake news are as idealistic as the librarians who are going to save the world one library card at a time. All they’re doing is setting themselves up for frustration.

Who wants to listen to a librarian when they can have their prejudices confirmed by partisan websites completely lacking any standards of proof or evidence? Not many people, it seems, and those that might listen to a librarian probably don’t need to.

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Comments

  1. Color Me Confused says:

    “Unworthy of attention” more characterizes the teacher-student friction you mentioned, than its dreary factualness-or-not, but I have trouble spotting the fake in regards to the school funding. The bare facts are easily corroborated by the “Los Angeles Daily News,” which appears to be the local newspaper of record for the San Fernando Valley. The only debatable nuance therein, is whether multi-racial families are checking boxes of race/ethnicity in the precise manner the state prefers.

    Do you feel the first headline misleads by using “Defunded” rather than “Losing Some Funds”? Had it been a story about cutting the librarian position, would you be okay with “defunded”? Or should “defunded” be reserved for the loss of all funding?

    If it’s misleading headlines that most trouble you, you might also be interested in the (very slight, and not in the mainstream media) dust-up over this carefully-worded NYTimes headline last week: “Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants.”

  2. Let’s do nothing since we can’t change everything! I’ve done two presentations on fake news so far (with three more on the way) and regardless of partisanship, each time people have told me that they learned things they didn’t know before and plan to use their knowledge to read news more critically. In my eyes, mission accomplished. Our patrons are so fortunate that not every librarian has this defeatist attitude.

  3. Librarian in California says:

    I think the issue to be discussed is news sites use headlines to attract clicks. I refer to this headline/link on the Library Journal website:Intellectual Property: “New Bill Would Let Trump Pick the Next Register of Copyrights” It is about a bill that would make the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointment rather than that of the Librarian of Congress. At the time the President is Donald J. Trump and the Librarian of Congress is Carla Hayden so technically using their names is okay. However the actual bill deals with positions in government, no matter who holds them. As for judging “fake news” I go back to when the Internet was young: judge the information on the source, not because you found it on the web. Or to go back even further: Never judge a book by its cover.

  4. LibrarianWhoCannotBeNamed says:

    The biggest problem I have with the “fake news” push from the ALA is that “fake news” comes in a variety of political flavors, but the ALA, in typical form, only seems to want to go after conservatives.

    • They ALWAYS go after conservatives. We’re the big baddies for some reason. The ‘fake news’ things I’ve seen are normally on left leaning sites. Yes, I’ve seen a few on the right as well, but not to the degree of the other.

    • Yes, it’s true that political propaganda comes in all flavors, and bias is sometimes difficult to avoid.
      But, your contention here that the ALA has some moral right to put slightly biased journalists who make their political stances well-known on the same level as fear-mongering, race-anxiety inducing, lazy “journalism” that simply takes a bit of truth and contorts it in order to feed a vast propaganda machine makes no sense. You’re crazy. Conservatives are “the big baddies” for “some reason”? This particular style of propaganda just happens to be heavily touted by your political side. If people think your beliefs are evil it’s because you are willing to stand up for this evil nonsense. It’s wrong because it’s designed to spread hate, fear, and misinformation on purpose! If you want people to take you seriously, you need to disavow this sort of thing. Defending it makes you a bad person. (Deflecting criticism of it by crying “no fair” counts as a defense by the way. It’s a pretty common technique after all.)

  5. What you say is “zilch” evidence is actually the March 24 suspension letter given to the Rollins College student. How about a correction? https://www.scribd.com/document/343021364/Letter-of-Suspension#from_embed

    And the reason there’s no comment from Zufari is because she didn’t return a request for comment.

    Marshall Polston is considering litigation: https://www.thecollegefix.com/post/31930/

  6. Less Confusing says:

    On thinking about it further, perhaps AL’s objection to the “Newsline” piece is the attempt to elicit outrage. This prompts a reflexive suspicion of it, even though “true” and “provocative” can be entirely compatible – and in this case, are. The school is almost certainly more diverse than it ever has been and it is only a single-digit percentage point increase in one particular ethnicity – and that not even the the plurality ethnicity – that triggers a reduction in funds. Whether this is important or not is another matter, but not something for a librarian to be the arbiter of.

    Arguably more significant – if less obvious, because cloaked in prestige – is the NYTimes’ penchant for writing headlines that reflect a certain desire to suppress, shall we say, or less charitably, to fit a preferred narrative. Another recent example much discussed on the tiny platform of a blog: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/12/30/contra-nyt-on-economists-on-education/

    As with the story, sourced upon a very thin survey, about foreign student applications referenced above, this one is of the same “40% ARE FOR!, blah, blah, oh yeah, 40% are against”-quality (only, in this case, though the majority of respondents who answered were “pro” the Times chose to highlight the half as many that were “anti”!). Indeed, one might wonder why the Times’ editors find these survey stories newsworthy at all, when it has so many reporters doing real journalism. But its often “creative” headline-writing and story selection are presumably by design and a point of pride. Certainly the Times need not fear librarians, alert though librarians may be for clickbait headlines on worthless, little-seen news aggregators. ;-)

  7. Confused No More says:

    The fake news is coming fast and furious. Once again, the source is not some absurd website easy-to-spot by the crusading librarian. Go figure.

    The story, that caught the eye of (a very small, impolite, and ignored sliver of) what you would call the right wing, was the lead in Monday’s LA Times:

    Hit-and-run accidents fell after California gave those here illegally driver’s licenses, study finds

    Respectable-stats-blog commenter “Thomas” (http://andrewgelman.com/2017/04/03/no-evidence-providing-drivers-licenses-unauthorized-immigrants-california-decreases-traffic-safety/#comments) did the heavy lifting the reporter did not deem important, and looked at the numbers in the study, produced by noted traffic-data folks the Immigration Policy Lab. Per the study’s own numbers, there were 73,046 hit-and-runs in 2014. There were 81,530 hit-and-runs in 2015.

    So, from 73,046 to 81,530 – a decrease. Wait – what?

    Did they mean there was a per-capita decrease? No … turns out … the decrease was in the study’s *model*, not in the real world. It *could have been* worse, so the reporter decided to say that the number “fell.” I see cheerful times ahead, if this sort of slender reporting continues.

    But do you suppose that was meant to be the the takeaway of your casual LA Times headline reader – or even story reader, as the story made no mention of this curiosity in which the real world is a fake of the modeled world? The true and straightforward version – no actual improvement – would hardly merit lead story-status. So how did it come to be featured so prominently?

    It fit the paper’s outlook, is the answer. It answered to the larger “truth” of its meta-narrative, is the answer. If it’s yours as well, this probably doesn’t concern you. But in that case it might be best to pipe down about the fake news on the “right wing echo chamber” websites – like the one where I learned about this.

  8. The Librarienne says:

    @librarianwhocannotbenamed How about the fake news that ALA itself has put out over the years: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2009/10/21/come-to-library-school-just-dont-expect-a-job/
    I’m much more offended by that.

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