Misinformation online can both distort decision-making by individuals and harm debate across societies. Yet at the same time, the notion of a fight against ‘fake news’ is also serving as an excuse for repressive laws that curb free speech. An effective response must be built on stronger media and information literacy and greater confidence in the digital environment, and care not to take steps that risk limiting freedom of access to information. Libraries can help.

‘Fake news’ is a topic of intense discussions in many parts of the world. There are major concerns that deliberate misinformation can undermine democratic decision-making, and lead to confusion and doubt in the lives of individuals.

Clearly the spread of inaccurate information with the intent to deceive it is not new. However, the speed at which digital news can be produced and travel makes the prevalence of ‘fake news’ a worrying trend.

The Library Contribution

Libraries have a significant role to play in this debate, given their institutional and ethical commitment to helping users access reliable and authentic information.

IFLA has been active for years in work on media and information literacy. For WLIC 2017, IFLA launched its statement on digital literacy, underlining how the ability to harness the potential of digital tools is essential to a democratic society and engaged citizenry.

For WLIC 2018, the IFLA Statement on Fake News reiterates the vital role libraries have in combating misinformation by providing the tools and skills to detect and recognize it. The expertise of librarians makes our institutions unique in their ability to help citizens to evaluate critically the information they find online.

In parallel, libraries combat censorship by defending free speech and freedom of information as a fundamental human right. The Statement underlines this role, and calls on governments to resist the temptation to implement far-reaching ‘bans’ which harm intellectual freedom.

Download the full statement [PDF] and use it in your own advocacy work. Let decision-makers know that libraries are more essential than ever, and that education is the only sustainable response to ‘fake news’.