Integrity of Info / Fact Checking
With the election results now in, what is termed “fake news” is big news lately. The Washington Post recently posted a guide titled The Fact Checker’s Guide for Detecting Fake News. Poynter has a guide; HuffPo has a cheat sheet too. Consortium News weighed in on the matter and so did OpEd News. Facebook now has assistance from Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, ABC News, and AP to “make reporting hoaxes easier and disrupt the financial incentives of fake news spammers.” This focus is fine and good, but what are we really talking about when we discuss fake news?
From where I sit as a former academic librarian, now college instructor, and scholar, “fake news” has been with us a very long time in the guise of propaganda and its various forms, even seeping into the territory of information warfare and conspiracy theory building (see my Lexicon and Goldman & Maret for definitions); furthermore, fake news is deeply intertwined with critical/analytical thinking and types of literacy (critical media literacy, data literacy, global critical media literacy, information, media-information literacy, news literacy, and research literacy). But more importantly, librarians and teachers have been consistently – actively – involved in teaching literacies at the ground level from public libraries, academic libraries through the educational system for decades.
There’s oodles to say on the subject of news fakery, such as how specific literacies intersect and mesh with critical thinking skills and analytical reasoning and the long scholarly history of different fields and disciplines that involve fake news in some way (albeit using a different term and concept), such as journalism, media ecology, sociology (sociology of knowledge, social constructivism). But here I bracket a deeper discussion to share a few things from a course I recently taught titled INFO 281-14, Integrity of Information at the School of Information, San Jose State University.
Below I share a few notes from the first week of the course and a checklist I developed with the brave students who took the course with me the first time out; perhaps this info will shift thinking away from “fake” to more serious and significant issues on what I think of as conditions of information.
Abbreviated first week notes:
U.S. federal agencies first began using the concept of integrity with information quality and security with the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act, P.L. 104-13, often referred to as the PRA. Described, but not defined in Sec. 3504 (B) of the PRA as “the integrity, objectivity, impartiality, utility, and confidentiality of information collected for statistical purposes,” by its association with these adjectives, integrity of information has a link to the roots of integrity as complete, whole, perhaps trustworthy information. In a new book titled Intelligence and Information Policy for National Security: Key Terms and Concepts that I co-edited with Dr. Jan Goldman, I included several uses of the information integrity/integrity of information concept (II). Below I briefly share these definitions so you can get a feel for how integrity is related to accuracy and credibility of information.
First, the Office of Management and Budget (2001) or OMB, while it does not define integrity, describes its features and associates the II concept with information quality throughout the life cycle of information.1 OMB directed federal agencies to develop guidelines and principles on information quality:
It is crucial that information Federal agencies disseminate meets these guidelines. In this respect, the fact that the Internet enables agencies to communicate information quickly and easily to a wide audience not only offers great benefits to society, but also increases the potential harm that can result from the dissemination of information that does not meet basic information quality guidelines.
Secondly, the U.S. Department of Defense Center for Development of Security Excellence (2012) took the step of defining II as
The state that exists when information is unchanged from its source and has not been accidentally or intentionally modified, altered, or destroyed.
We can further enlarge our view of II through the remarks of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper (2015) in the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. You might have seen Director Clapper’s statements in the news:
In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) instead of deleting it or disrupting access. (p.3)
Successful cyber operations targeting the integrity of information would need to overcome any institutionalized checks and balances designed to prevent the manipulation of data, for example, market monitoring and clearing functions in the financial sector. (p.4)
Note that Clapper’s comments associate information integrity/integrity of information with accuracy, manipulation, and reliability. Clapper’s highlighting of these features suggests that information, especially in the online sphere, can be altered as to become disinformation, lies, misinformation, and/or propaganda; in other words, information is tampered with in order to present a specific perspective and to actively influence and/or mislead the reader by either omitting important details or flat out manipulating them.
1 OMB (2000) defines the information life cycle as “the stages through which information passes, typically characterized as creation or collection, processing, dissemination, use, storage, and disposition.”
Center for Development of Security Excellence. (2012). Glossary of security terms and definitions. U.S. Department of Defense, November 2012. Retrieved from http://www.cdse.edu/documents/cdse/Glossary_Handbook.pdf
Clapper, J.R. (2015).Statement for the record: Worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community.Office of the Director of National Intelligence, February 26. Senate Armed Services Committee. Retrieved from http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Unclassified_2015_ATA_SFR_-_SASC_FINAL.pdf
Office of Management and Budget. (2001). Guidelines for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of Information disseminated by federal agencies. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg_final_information_quality_guidelines/
Here’s a copy of the Checklist: sm_process_checklist
So what’s news about “fake news”?