London South Bank University’s Alison Skoyles et al talk about a conference they organised to round up some of the most effective strategies to tackle fake news.
THE Information Skills Advisers at London South Bank University decided to host a conference around the topical issue of fake news. This is Not a Fake Conference took place on
During the process of researching and creating our own workshops on fake news and evaluating information, we came across initiatives from across the world and at many different institutions and organisations. We thought it would be useful and interesting to arrange an event where information professionals could get together to present and discuss the projects they had developed in this area.
We sent out a request for proposals, and we were soon inundated with submissions. We put together a packed programme for the day. Delegates came from across the UK, and the event was soon sold out.
The conference was opened by Alison Chojna, Head of Library and Learning Resources at LSBU, who welcomed the speakers and delegates to the university. We used Mentimeter so that delegates could say which sector they worked in and how far they had travelled.
Algorithms can’t take on fake news
The first speaker was Adam Blackwell from ProQuest. His presentation, The Good News About Fake News: It’s a much bigger problem than you thought!, was a great jumping off point for the conference as he demonstrated a model he had devised to identify fake news, and differentiate it from satire. He went on to demonstrate real life examples of fake news such as the Pope endorsing Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He suggested that people believe these stories, even when proved wrong, simply because they want to. Adam concluded that, despite their best efforts, tech companies will not be able to combat fake news by changing algorithms – it is down to educators.
Carol Hollier from the University of Nottingham was next up. Carol gave an overview of how the proliferation of online fake news had grown since 2016 – from news outlets reporting on the phenomenon, to fake news platforms themselves gaining a larger profile. To address this, librarians at the University of Nottingham created workshops introducing students to concepts such as the filter bubble, alternative search engines to Google, and evaluating search results using Radar. The final workshop activity was an in-depth evaluation into a credible-seeming journal article.
Some researchers have found…
Andy Tattersall talked about when media outlets use a phrase like “some researchers have found” as a source of authority to back up their story. Andy stressed the importance of researchers communicating with the media to help with the accuracy of reporting. He also emphasised how important it is for the media to link to the research they are referencing so that others can easily find it, but also because news stories are shared widely online, and if the original piece is missing the link, then so will all the subsequent iterations. Amongst other things, Andy suggested that librarians should encourage researchers to make their work open access, train academics in the safe use of social media, and promote the use of Orcids (digital identifiers for researchers).
Fake news ninjas
Lorna Smith presented on the Fake News Guide that librarians at Newcastle University have developed for students. This includes an embedded newsfeed of stories that mention fake news, and a very handy timeline depicting the history of fake news . There are lots of useful tips for students on how to spot fake news and how to identify media bias. The librarians have also written blogs to enable students to become Fake News Ninjas! Lorna laid out future plans to embed the Libguide and blog content into online learning, as well as being used in face-to-face teaching.
The conference keynote speaker was Rita Marcella from Robert Gordon University. Rita is Professor of Information Management, and her presentation focused on the research agenda around information behaviour beliefs and fake news. She gave her background in research, stretching back to the 1990s, with a focus on local and national elections and referenda. Rita carried out a study into how much participants trusted “facts” reported by the major political parties during the Scottish Referendum. Her findings revealed a number of factors, including political allegiance, personal experience (e.g. with healthcare, education etc.), and mistrust of modern politics and politicians. In order to assist future research, Rita asked the delegates three questions:
How can LIS make the significance of our contribution to the fake news agenda more visible?
What is the major research priority for libraries in terms of the fake news debate?
How can academics and librarians work better together to enhance user service provision?
Working with teenagers
After lunch, Peter Keep and Robin Pomeroy explained the fascinating new initiative run by The Charlotte Project. The Charlotte Project was set up in memory of Charlotte Cooper, a journalist who worked at Reuters and was passionate about engaging teenagers with news and information. The aims of the project are to provide students between the ages of 15 to 18 with some tools to enable them to navigate the maze of news, commentary and opinion disseminated on the web and via social media, help them to critically analyse and question what they are reading. Peter and Robin devised exercises for students to write their own checklists on how to spot fake news. They are rolling out the workshops to more schools around London.
Echo chambers and filter bubbles
Gwen Kent from the University of Bedfordshire talked about initiatives around fake news that tied into the university’s strategic plan. These included book displays, blog posts, posters, guides, web marketing, a staff newsletter, and a very well-designed workshop. Gwen devised a clever game involving string and students that demonstrated how filter bubbles and echo chambers work online. The workshop emphasised the point that if students want to know if they are in an echo chamber they should discuss issues with their peers and see if their views hold up.
Fake news Fridays
Ute Manecke and Amanda Closier from The Open University introduced their unique library and student body, and explained that they had developed training initiatives around fake news because of its ubiquitous presence in the media. For four Fridays leading up to the General Election in 2017 they ran Fake News Fridays – live broadcasts on Facebook based on the IFLA fake news infographic on how to spot fake news https://bit.ly/2LVJSeO. Amanda demonstrated how to record live using Facebook. Future plans include creating Moodle activities around fake images, and presenting to the Open University Students’ Association conference on fake news.
Trash or treasure
Carol Price, Mandy Goode and Janice Wright from Birmingham City University presented on how they support the Extended Project Qualification. They developed fake news materials from one of the workshops they run for these students, Trash or Treasure, because it is a timely issue, and they were worried that students believed everything they read! They use activities from Factitious, the BBC Schools site, and the Learning Network from The New York Times to engage students in practical activities.
Tools for fact-checking
Georgina Cronin, Katie Hughes and Lucy Welch’s entertaining presentation explored some fake news examples from history, and then looked at how people get their news today, noting the trend to rely solely on social media more and more. They suggested some tools for fact-checking news such as Snopes and the WayBackMachine. They demonstrated how Google can return different results depending on what computer is being used, which is a great way to clearly show what the filter bubble is! They developed an active listening activity where participants had to listen to a radical point of view without responding until the person’s minute was up.
Heather Lincoln and Kay Griffiths from Imperial College London created workshops for 300+ MSc Finance students on the topics of business and fake news. This tied in with the new Learning and Teaching Strategy, which placed emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and integration of professionalism alongside information ethics.
Students use the Prompt test
to evaluate information. There were excellent examples of practical exercises where students could clearly see the benefits of using a newspaper database like Factiva compared to Google.
Sebastian Krutkowski from the University of Roehampton suggests an alternative pedagogical tool to checklists and Craap tests (currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose) – satire!
His presentation brought us full circle by proposing we use satire to teach students about fake news. He argues that satire can be used to focus on the how and why of misinformation instead of the what. Sebastian focused on political satire on television, particularly US shows.
These provide good discussion points amongst students, even if they do not get the humour themselves, as it allows them to dissect the story.
Article co-authors Kathy Neville and Alison Skoyles presented on the host institution’s fake news initiatives. These include workshops that appear on the students’ Higher Education Achievement Report. The Information Skills Advisers also worked with LSBU’s Journalism department to help the students produce a news programme on fake news by finding willing panellists and even being interviewed themselves.
We then decided to arrange the conference so that information professionals could get together to exchange ideas and best practice.
For twitter comments on the conference, see the #LSBUFakeNews2018 hashtag and the presentations are on Slideshare.
There is clearly a lot of work being done by library and information professionals in this fast-developing area. We set up a Jisc mailing list so that delegates could continue their discussions and exchange best practice and ideas. We opened up the list to anyone who was interested, and at the time of going to press nearly 200 people had signed up.
This was the first conference any of us had organised, and we were thrilled that it was so well received. We were very lucky to have an excellent and experienced Events Team at LSBU who advised on everything from when the best time for a conference would be, to how to order catering, as well as providing as with rooms and name badges.
We made good use of Twitter in particular, so that delegates could tweet their reactions to the presentations. We also asked for more specific feedback in the form of an online questionnaire afterwards so we could see what had worked well and what we could improve on for any future conferences.
We learned ultimately that it is important to have a team working on the project, so that the many (many) tasks can be fairly allocated, and for support and encouragement throughout the whole process.