i dream of being possible

i'm seeing a few posts about how to 'fact check' things you see on tumblr, as well...

i”m seeing a few posts about how to ‘fact check” things you see on tumblr, as well as several inducements to not spread misinformation.

while i can understand where these people are coming from, there are few issues i have with how they are framing this issue.

in my field this is the sort of thing we call ‘information literacy” (which is broader than just being able to discern and judge the veracity and quality of information). like many other kinds of literacy, info lit is a skill that must learned and it isn”t necessarily easy.

and while it isn”t a bad idea for people, in general, to beef up their info lit skills, i take issue with the overall framing.

the actual problem, here, isn”t that people can”t tell the difference between a fact and a lie OR a credible from a disreputable resources, but that people are intentionally propogating falsehoods. or maybe they”re doing it accidentally based on some other intentionally false source. either way, the result is the same.

the solution, of course, would be that people stop posting lies. above all: these people who do it intentionally (for the sake of clicks and ad revenue or whatever) are the ones responsible and are the ones who ought to correct their behaviour.

since this is unlikely, working on our info lit skills is a generally good idea.

but this is also an unfair demand, in some cases, since telling people to fact check adds an additional cognitive load to their online activities. blaiming people for their illiteracy is also just a shitty thing to do.

as for info lit, these posts also dangerously simplify the problem of trying to discern good and bad information. even within professionals, this is a problem. since many of the strategies for verifying and deducing veracity really just depend on a fallacy (appeals to authority).

they”ll say “news is more credible if posted by the bbc or ny times”, but this is a fallacious assumption. it relies more on the authority of the organizations than any real substantive strategy for distinguishing truths from falsehoods. it creates a false expectation that authoritative resources are de facto trustworthy ones.

which is a problem when you can have a textbook that calls enslaved Africans ‘workers”. or a government claiming that there is evidence of weapons of mass destruction. are these actually more credible than, say, a descendent of an enslaved African telling you that, no, they were slaves not workers? or the people actually in the country denying the existence of the weapons?

in short: authority does not imply credibility. credibility does not imply truthfulness. conflating all of these things with some simple, reductive strategies doesn”t actually help anyone at all.