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Information and Media Literacy: How to Spot the Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Ugly

Information and media are everywhere, and it can be hard to keep up with, let alone to ensure the news you are receiving is accurate. This guide is designed to encourage you to examine the information you receive and feel you can determine its quality.

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Special Thanks

Special thanks to this guide’s originators for opening this conversation: Sandy Hancock, MLIS, Pikes Peak Library District; Tammy Sayles, MLIS, Pikes Peak Library District; and Melanie Wehrle, MLIS, formerly of Pikes Peak Library District.

Additionally, thanks to KT Lowe, Indiana University East; and Vanessa Otero, Programming Librarian.

Information and Media Literacy: How to Spot the Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Ugly

Information & Media Literacy

Libraries worldwide have made a commitment to help their users and patrons improve their understanding of all kinds of literacies, including textual literacy, digital literacy, civic literacy, health literacy, financial literacy, and information/media literacy. This last type of literacy--the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information"1--is the focus of this guide. See more about the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) commitment to literacy initiatives here.

At the time of this writing, anyone with an internet connection can create content that can be shared and can go viral faster than the time it takes to read this sentence. The internet does not require any of its content to be true or verifiable. Nothing on the internet is guaranteed to be a true statement, a logical claim, a commonly-held belief, or—now that AI-produced content exists—even produced by a human. This content may have no editors, no gatekeepers, and no referees.

However, internet-based content is not categorically bad, untrue, invalid, or wrong. Because of the openness of the internet, content creators and consumers can connect and exchange ideas online more freely than ever before and in real time.

So what can a savvy searcher do to determine what online content is good, what is bad, and what is just plain ugly?

While there are no shortcuts to checking claims or facts, there are some strategies and resources that we can share with you to make your search for information smoother. Click the blue boxes at the left of your screen (on a computer) or at the top of your screen (on mobile devices) to dive deeper. 

A brief glossary of some key terms regarding searching can be found below (under Some Key Terms for the Savvy Searcher). Because of the speed at which the online world changes, this list is by no means complete.

Information and Media Literacy Resources in PPLD's Collection

Political Rumors: Why We Accept Misinformation and How to Fight It

Available as an eBook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive

Political rumors and misinformation pollute the political landscape. This is not a recent phenomenon; before the currently rampant and unfounded rumors about a stolen election and vote-rigging, there were other rumors that continued to spread even after they were thoroughly debunked, including doubts about 9/11 (an "inside job") and the furor over President Obama's birthplace and birth certificate. If misinformation crowds out the truth, how can Americans communicate with one another about important issues? In this book, Adam Berinsky examines why political rumors exist and persist despite their unsubstantiated and refuted claims, who is most likely to believe them, and how to combat them.Drawing on original survey and experimental data, Berinsky shows that a tendency toward conspiratorial thinking and vehement partisan attachment fuel belief in rumors. Yet the reach of rumors is wide, and Berinsky argues that in fighting misinformation, it is as important to target the undecided and the uncertain as it is the true believers. We're all vulnerable to misinformation, and public skepticism about the veracity of political facts is damaging to democracy. Moreover, in a world where most people simply don't pay attention to politics, political leaders are often guilty of disseminating false information—and failing to correct it when it is proven wrong. Berinsky suggests that we should focus on the messenger as much as the message of rumors. Just as important as how misinformation is debunked is who does the debunking.

The Stickler's Guide to Science in the Age of Misinformation

Available as an eBook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive

The perfect remedy for our culture of fake news, bad science, and propaganda. We have more scientific information at our fingertips today than ever before. And more disinformation too. Online, on television, and in print, science is often communicated through shorthand analogies and phrases that obscure or omit important facts. “Superfoods,” “right- and left-brained” people, and “global warming” may be snappy and ear-catching but are they backed by scientific facts? Lifelong educator R. Philip Bouchard is a stickler for this kind of thing, and he is well-prepared to set the record straight. The Stickler’s Guide to Science in the Age of Misinformation unpacks the many misuses of terms we see used every day, revealing how these popular “scientific” concepts fall short of real science. Find out why trees do not “store” carbon dioxide; a day is not actually 24 hours; DNA cannot provide a “blueprint” for a human being; and an absence of gravity is not the reason that astronauts float in space.

Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload and Misinformation

Available as an eBook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive

Middle school is a time of change, when things begin to look different and assumptions start to be questioned, and today more than ever it's tough to know what to believe. This unique and timely book won't tell you what to think—that's up to you!—but it will show you how to think more deeply about your own life and current events. Covering a wide range of subjects affecting the world today, including human and animal rights, social media, cyber bullying, the refugee crisis, and more, Think For Yourself will help you to learn how to ask questions, analyze evidence, and use logic to draw conclusions, so you can solve problems and make smart decisions.


Available as a print book for checkout

This entertaining and educational book applies the tools of critical thinking to identify the common features and trends among misinformation campaigns. With illustrations drawn from conspiracy theorists and deniers of every stripe, the author teaches readers how rumors are started, and the rhetorical techniques and logical fallacies often found in misleading or outright false claims.

What distinguishes real conspiracies from conspiracy theories, real science from pseudoscience, and actual history from bogus accounts purporting to be history? How does one evaluate the credibility of rumors and quotes or judge the soundness of legal arguments advanced by tax deniers? Readers will learn how to make these critical distinctions and also how to spot "evidence" that has been manufactured or manipulated in some way to create a false impression.

At a time when average citizens are bombarded with false information every day, this entertaining book will prove to be not only a great read but also an indispensable resource.

Fact, Fiction, and Flying Saucers

Available as an eBook for checkout through Freading and (as featured here) a print book for checkout

Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden set the record straight about the existence of UFOs by examining politically motivated misinformation and presenting compelling evidence that separates fact from fiction.

The Wellness Trap

Available as as an eBook and an eAudiobook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive, and (as featured here) a print book for checkout

"It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle."
You've probably heard this phrase from any number of people in the wellness space. But as Christy Harrison reveals in her latest book, wellness culture promotes a standard of health that is often both unattainable and deeply harmful. Many people with chronic illness understandably feel dismissed or abandoned by the healthcare system and find solace in alternative medicine, as Harrison once did. Yet the wellness industry promotes practices that often cause even more damage than the conventional approaches they're meant to replace. Weaving together history, memoir, reporting, and practical advice, Harrison illuminates the harms of wellness culture while re-imagining our society's relationship with well-being.

True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News

Available as an eBook and an eAudiobook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive and (as featured here) as a print book for checkout

In True or False, former CIA analyst Cindy Otis will take readers through the history and impact of misinformation over the centuries, sharing stories from the past and insights that readers today can gain from them. Then, she shares lessons learned in over a decade working for the CIA, including actionable tips on how to spot fake news, how to make sense of the information we receive each day, and, perhaps most importantly, how to understand and see past our own information biases, so that we can think critically about important issues and put events happening around us into context.

True or False includes a wealth of photo illustrations, informative inserts, and sidebars containing interesting facts and trivia sure to engage readers in critical thinking and analysis.


Available as an eBook and an eAudiobook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive and (as featured here) as a print book for checkout

From fake news to conspiracy theories, from inflammatory memes to misleading headlines, misinformation has swiftly become the defining problem of our era. The crisis threatens the integrity of our democracies, our ability to cultivate trusting relationships, even our physical and psychological well-being--yet most attempts to combat it have proven insufficient. In Foolproof, one of the world's leading experts on misinformation lays out a crucial new paradigm for understanding and defending ourselves against the worldwide infodemic.

What the Fact? Finding the Truth in All the Noise

Available as an eBook and an eAudiobook for checkout through Libby/OverDrive

From acclaimed writer, journalist, and physician Dr. Seema Yasmin comes a "savvy, accessible, and critical" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) book about the importance of media literacy, fact-based reporting, and the ability to discern truth from lies.What is a fact? What are reliable sources? What is news? What is fake news? How can anyone make sense of it anymore? Well, we have to. As conspiracy theories and online hoaxes increasingly become a part of our national discourse and "truth" itself is being questioned, it has never been more vital to build the discernment necessary to tell fact from fiction, and media literacy has never been more important. In this accessible guide, Dr. Seema Yasmin, an award-winning journalist, scientist, medical professional, and professor, traces the spread of misinformation and disinformation through our fast-moving media landscape and teaches young readers the skills that will help them identify and counter poorly-sourced clickbait and misleading headlines.

Some Key Terms for the Savvy Searcher

term definition source
bias a) an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially: a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : PREJUDICE; 
b) an instance of such prejudice
Webster Dictionary
clickbait an internet story, title, image, etc. that is intended to attract attention and encourage people to click on a link Cambridge Dictionary
confirmation bias people’s tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with their existing beliefs.  Britannica
crisis actor

a professional or volunteer actor who plays a role in a staged drill in order to prepare or train first responders for a specific emergency scenario; or (in a false flag conspiracy theory) a person pretending to be a victim in a hoax attack.
deepfake any of various media, esp. a video, that has been digitally manipulated to replace one person's likeness convincingly with that of another, often used maliciously to show someone doing something that he or she did not do. Oxford Languages
disinformation deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda
filter bubble an environment and especially an online environment in which people are exposed only to opinions and information that conform to their existing beliefs Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
go viral if a video, image, or story goes viral, it spreads quickly and widely on the internet through social media and email. Collins Dictionary
misinformation incorrect or misleading information Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
parody a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule Merriam-
Webster Dictionary
satire a poem or (in later use) a novel, film, or other work of art which uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary.  Oxford Languages
troll a troll is Internet slang for a person who intentionally tries to instigate conflict, hostility, or arguments in an online social community. GCF Global