Fake news and bad information are sadly nothing new to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc (LDF). In the wake of the landmark LDF victory in Brown v. Board of Education, supporters of segregation fed communities with lies about the motives of Black parents, and the so-called “dangers of integration” for Black and white schoolchildren. This deliberate campaign included “fake news” that appealed to racial stereotypes and fears. The same was true when LDF fought to promote integrated housing. “Fake news” about the threat of integration property values of white homeowners, and “urban legends” about Black criminality encouraged “white flight,” and killed nascent efforts to create integrated neighborhoods in cities across the country. In each instance, though the initial legal fight to end segregation had been won, LDF was compelled to confront a campaign of deliberate misinformation. Thus we have long been familiar with the importance of educating communities about how to discern reliable information from propaganda designed to promote fear.
This fight for truth continues. The spread of “fake news” and false reports, particularly on social media, has prompted companies such as Google and Facebook to improve their internal algorithms to help users easily identify these sources and prioritize search result entries. However, we all need to rely on more than algorithms and others filtering our information for us. Just as in the past, each of us needs to be vigilant and effectively evaluate the information we consume.
So how can you identify a reliable, accurate, and real source of information?
As a librarian and archivist, I will share a well-known test we use and teach called the CRAAP test. It’s an easy-to-use set of questions you can employ every time you are in doubt regarding a resource.
CRAAP stands for:
- Currency: When was this data/article published? Articles and reports frequently come with information, tables, data embedded in them. When was this data gathered and analyzed? Dates are particularly relevant when it comes to press releases and even tweets and Facebook posts.
- Relevance: Does this data answer your question? Is the information adequate for the work you are pursuing? Is the author including supplemental information which seems redundant to the main question?
- Authority: What are the credentials of the writer? Is the author from a recognizable institution, organization, university, etc.? Does the writer provide an educational/professional background? And if he/she does, are the universities/academic institutions accredited[KL1] in widely recognized professional associations nationally and regionally?
- Accuracy: What information is the writer using to substantiate his/her findings/conclusions[KL2] ? Are the facts, data, sources provided verifiable and substantiated in other sources? Is the author presenting different points of view to provide a balanced picture?
- Purpose: What was the main goal of data when created/complied? Commercial, academic, legal, entertainment? Did he/she mention different opinions/arguments? Are add advertisements predominant and overwhelming?
While it is important to develop skills and savvy to evaluate information, you also don’t have to do it alone. There are several well-known organizations actively working to present and compile a clear picture on current issues and political statements. These are: www.factcheck.org, www.politifact.com, www.snopes.com, and www.propublica.org. You can check them, and subscribe to their newsletters. Given the increasing onslaught of bad information, these institutions are also using social media and other channels to share information..
And sometimes you might still be confused and have trouble navigating information overload. So, I’m going to share a little secret which has worked for years: ask a librarian or an archivist. We are here to help you identify reliable and accurate sources of information, whatever form it takes: digital and even old-fashioned paper. We can also help you search and verify footnotes and other sourcing, archival information, and the affiliations of writers, think tanks, and groups to understand the biases or agendas that may be guiding the material they are putting out.
“Democracy and ignorance cannot endure side by side.” These are the words of civil and human rights lawyer and activist Charles Hamilton Houston. He wrote them in 1935, but they are as true today as they were 80 years ago. We all win when we strive for a well-informed and truth-seeking citizenry. Here at LDF, we are deeply committed to this work and we strive to do it every day.