Meta-Information Literacy: Checking-in on Twitter’s Battle Against Disinformation

Information Access, News Literacy, Social Media

By: Ross Sempek

It’s alarming when one considers the credulity of users who took this advice to heart. Comparing a virus to a solid that can be swallowed let alone killed with stomach acid boggles the mind – things that don’t even pass the sniff-test become believable and a cursory glance at this raises a million red flags. At least in this cropped screen-grab, there are no links and no names. No way to verify the information unless you’re slightly curious enough to visit the university’s website. You think that if they were to broadcast something on Twitter, it’d also be part of their official messaging. I’ll be honest, I began researching this blog post with the intention to tear Twitter down for their role in the degeneration of information-literacy and such ensuing gullibility. Hence the title of this post; I wanted to be information literate about their information literacy. But it turns out they’re doing some pretty good stuff in that arena. I still have reservations about their approach as a whole, but it’s really nice to see Twitter step up and offer tools for info-literacy, rather than simply telling users what’s true and what isn’t.

To this end, Twitter announced its partnership with UNESCO to create the handbook Teaching and Learning with Twitter. I still have some issues with this document, namely that it’s transparently self-serving, and I don’t see Twitter as a useful replacement for certain aspects of pedagogy. Which brings me to another issue: its intended audience. The title makes it sound like it’s exclusive to educators, but really it can be read by any interested party. The portion it has on digital etiquette, media literacy and cyber-bullying would be particularly useful for the uninitiated. I also feel that links to this information (or the PDF itself) should be front and center on a twitter-feed menu, or at least as part of one. Talking about it on the blog is nice, and even tweeting about information literacy is meeting users more than halfway. But most people pay little mind to what’s below the fold let alone make a new tab for research. At least make it accessible within a few clicks.   

Concluding the handbook’s announcement Moez Chakchouk, assistant director-general of UNESCO is quoted: “disinformation is compromising democracy and development.” I would say that’s only partly true. Disinformation isn’t immediately harmful; it’s our belief that gives it legs and information literacy can act to disrupt this synthesis. But information literacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum – you need to nourish it with curiosity (or, “skepticism at its best”). Although this is something hard, if not, impossible to impart, it needs to be part of the equation. To me it’s the foundation of information literacy itself. For fear (or hope) combined with a lack of curiosity feeds disinformation.

Really, though, this sort of stuff is unavoidable on platforms like these. So take a moment to reflect on how you interact with your sources of information. It may help to compartmentalize your media – designate social media, say, solely for keeping in touch with your family, and entertainment. Twitter will even let users tailor feeds down to the word. I know that we’re told that this sort of “echo-chamber” actually counters the tenets of information literacy, but as long as you seek and critically engage with information from varied sources then you’re doing just fine. Part of the problem is that by Twitter censoring or labeling disinformation, they make the assumption (and statement) that they are the sole source of information for most of their users. When, at best, it’s a secondary source of information. 

In the spirit research, here are some fact-checking resources worth a perusal.

Recipients of Twitter’s Ads for Good credits:

Other sites:

Ross Sempek

Ross Sempek is a recent MLIS graduate and a Library Assistant at the Happy Valley Public Library just outside of Portland, Oregon. He comes from a blue-collar family that values art, literature, and an even consideration for all world-views. This informs his passion for intellectual freedom, which he considers to be the bedrock for blooming to one’s fullest potential. It defines this country’s unique freedoms and allows an unfettered fulfillment of one’s purpose in life. When he is not actively championing librarianship, he loves lounging with his cat, cycling, and doing crossword puzzles – He’s even written a handful of puzzles himself.

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