(#368) Fake, Illegitimate Or Incomplete Information?

June 11, 2017

Just because you find a lot of information does not mean
you have found accurate or credible information

If, as famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright claimed, “An expert is a man who stops thinking because he knows,” then can we say the same for a person who claims one source of information as the fount of all legitimacy and contrary accounts to be illegitimate or “fake”? Has she stopped discerning because she “knows” what is legitimate and what is fake?

More than five years ago, I shot a quick video (see below) outlining four basic considerations when considering information to address an issue or task?

  1. What information do you need for the task at hand?
  2. Where will you find that information?
  3. How will you evaluate the information you find for accuracy and legitimacy?
  4. How will you organize and use the information for your audience?

Can we grow as individuals if we filter what we read, hear, and see through one source (or a number of like-minded sources)?  Are we motivated to grow–or just “be right” even in the face of confounding information?

Do we care?

A friend shared two stories this week.  I doubt they are apocryphal.

  • A neighbor asked my friend where she got her news. My friend rattled off a list of seven or eight sources. Out of hand, the neighbor dismissed the entire list as thoroughly “illegitimate.” When asked what her source of information was, the neighbor mentioned one source. Just one source. It was, according to her, legitimate. End of story. (See numbers two and three, above.)
  • My friend has found the same situation in her college classroom.  No matter the topic,  two camps emerge. Diametrically opposed. Refusing to listen and discuss with the other. Each considering their source(s) of information legitimate and the others’ suspect at the least and fake at the worst.

Is this a sign of intellectual laziness? A lack of critical thinking? Or is this sort of thing nothing new—just magnified because everyone can have a social media platform where we surround ourselves with “likes” and “shares” and then block opposing viewpoints?  (I still remember my mother often warning me (more than fifty years ago) not to speak about politics or religion.) It does seem like today’s volume, as well as the personal vitriol, has been cranked up considerably.

I offered a suggestion to my friend.

  1. Pick two sources of news that generally disagree on issues and stances.
  2. Find one current news story on which both of these sources present a similar account of the issue or event.
  3. Print both stories without any attribution (nothing that would identify the sources).
  4. Ask your friend (or students) to identify the “illegitimate source” based solely on the content presented. If both stories are drawing the same conclusion then how can the argument hold that a particular source is always illegitimate?

Perhaps you could do it as well to at least start a rational conversation. Start with common ground and move from there.

Video recommendation for the week.

Just because you find information does not mean you have credible information.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

For information about and to order my new book, Stories About Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here.

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Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).

(c) 2017. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

(#313) Information Literacy 2.0: WHO Is The WHO Of Your Information?

May 22, 2016

We need to pay more attention to the sources of our information and 
we now need to question whether the sources are real people.

A note to my blog followers: This week’s post marks the sixth anniversary for this blog. Thank you for following and sharing my weekly posts. It all began in an Austin, Texas hotel room at the end of May, 2010.  I had just completed facilitating a session at the NISOD annual conference and decided it was time I dove in to the blogosphere.  Please let me know if you have ideas for future topics. Now, let’s begin year #7 for the Growth and Resilience blog.
It has become cliché to talk about the explosion of information. We’ve either seen or heard statistics like:

  • 5 million pieces of content are posted on Facebook every minute.
  • 72 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • Nearly 300,000 tweets are posted on Twitter every minute.

And we could go on about the millions of emails sent, thousands upon thousands of photos and video shared on Instagram or Snapchat.  Blogs, like this one hosted by WordPress.com, number in the tens of millions.

In both of my books, I wrote about basic information literacy skills.  I cautioned that just because there’s a lot of information doesn’t mean that it’s good information. Even did a short video on the topic a few years ago.

The third question I pose in the video above (“How will you evaluate the information you found?”) takes on added importance today. Not only must we determine whether accurate information has been presented, we need to pay more attention to the source of the information. When I speak about source evaluation, I stress the importance of understanding bias, scope, depth, and background of a source.  According to an article in the May 2016 edition of Wired, we now need to question whether the sources are real people.


Samuel Woolley and Phil Howard present an argument that bots—“spam accounts that post autonomously using programmed scripts” and fictitious names—have inundated the web. According to TwitterAudit, for instance (on May 22, 2016), @realdonaldtrump registers at 76% real and 24% “fake followers.”  @hillaryclinton comes in at 79% real and 21% “fake followers.”  Go to TwitterAudit.com and give it a spin.  As the site itself states, this is not perfect (meaning, it too would need more vetting and evaluation as part of an information literacy exercise.)  Oh, and when I typed in @stevepiscitelli, the “audit” showed 13% “fake followers.” Hmm.  Note: These findings are not indicting a person or entity that it is creating the fake followers. I know I have not done that. The findings do indicate that we need to at least ask some questions about the numbers and comments concerning “followers.”

“So what’s the big deal?” you may ask. According to Woolley and Howard, “Automated campaign communications are a very real threat to our democracy. We need more transparency about where bots are coming from, and we need it now, or bots could unduly influence the 2016 election.”

Image: digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: digitalart/

And, it can go beyond election campaigns to other discourse on the web.  Not only do we need to discern what is real, but we now have to pay attention to who is real.   This may not be a totally new dimension as we’ve had robocalls for years. If you were around during the Watergate years you may remember the “dirty tricks” campaign associated with Donald Segretti of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon).  But the stated magnitude and reach of these bots is enough to give us pause.

In a social media culture that gets wrapped up in numbers of followers, likes, shares, and views, bots add another dimension.

Read wisely, my friend.

Make it an inspiring week as you pursue your authentic “hell, yeah!” goals.—H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

You can find my podcast series at Growth and Resilience (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts). 

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars). 

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

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